Castleton police chief: “no criminal violation” in nursing threat

There is no imminent threat at this time to the Castleton University campus and it was determined by the Castleton Police Department and the State’s Attorney that there have been no criminal violations committed by nursing faculty Melissa Gorton in the state of Vermont, Castleton Chief of Police Peter Mantello said Friday.

However, Gorton is not allowed on campus and students and faculty are asked to keep an eye out for her and notify Public Safety if she is seen, Dean of Students Dennis Proulx said.

Gorton made threats targeted toward specific faculty members in the Nursing Department and President Karen Scolforo in an audio recording that was given to Castleton Public Safety on Wednesday, April 17 at 10:30 a.m., Mantello said.

The audio recording was given by a friend of Gorton, according to Proulx. The name of the friend was not released.

The content of the recording was not specified, but Mantello said there was cause for concern initially.

“They were definitely threatening,” he said.

After the threat was received, Castleton University’s Emergency Management Team convened and sent out an e-mail warning not only those at CU, but members of the community, Mantello said.

There was an increased presence of police on Castleton’s campus until they were sure there was no threat, Mantello said.

Police were able to contact Gorton that night through a phone call and she was cooperative, Mantello said without giving more details.

According to Chair of the Nursing Department Angela Smith, Gorton has been on administrative leave since February. She did not say why she was on leave.

“We haven’t heard a word from her, we haven’t seen her, we haven’t talked to her,” Smith said, adding that she was supportive of Gorton during the hiring process.

“She’s actually very, very smart and clinically sound,” Smith said.  

Those mentioned in the recording were notified of the threats made toward them, Smith said. Smith was not among them.

Students were shocked and concerned after the e-mail was sent out.

Meaghan Sheehan, a nursing student who knew Gorton, said she was surprised.

“It’s kind of shocking because of who she was. She was so nice and helpful, it just seems out character,” she said.

Max Boulerice, another nursing student, was baffled that a nursing professor acted this way.

“It’s scary knowing that a nurse who is supposed to be a caring, nurturing and compassionate person is now threatening people,” he said.  

Proulx said that the students in the nursing program are the ones who will feel a greater impact from this incident.

“The nursing students are certainly affected because she’s one of their faculty and they love and have worked with her for a while. So, loss of relationship could be a factor,” he said.

Nursing students were not the only ones concerned, however. Grant Cummings said he was surprised classes were still being held.

“My girlfriend didn’t want me walking around campus,” Cummings said.

Alex Fernald was in a classroom in Stafford Academic Center, where the nursing department is located, soon after the initial e-mail was sent out.

“It got to the point where it was like whenever people walked past the door my head was like on a swivel … Yeah, it was uncomfortable,” Fernald said.

Scolforo said that the university is focused on keeping everyone on campus safe.

“The main priority is the safety of our students, our faculty, our staff, and our visitors and in the light of this, we will continue to take precautions,” she said in an emailed response Friday.

Smith praised the university for quickly reacting to the situation, and mentioned how the current culture creates a quick fear response when threats occur.

“I think because of everything that’s on the news … people are on edge,” Smith said.

Proulx spoke about how Castleton has prepared for incidents such as this by creating an emergency response team on campus, which Castleton did not always have.

“Things have changed, we have an emergency management system because things have changed,” Proulx said.

Mantello said the investigation has been deemed “inactive,” but is ongoing in the state of New York, where Gorton is from.

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