Hero superintendent receives state awards at S. Orangetown Middle School

Thomas P. Morahan

June 17, 2009


Ethan Klapper

BLAUVELT - Flanked by state, local and school officials, South Orangetown Schools Superintendent Kenneth Mitchell received awards and praise at a ceremony yesterday honoring his actions on Tuesday.

Mitchell, who pinned a gunman to the floor of his office in South Orangetown Middle School, was honored by state Sen. Thomas P. Morahan and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee at the middle school.

"I'm glad that I'm here talking to you and thanking you, but I was very, very lucky," he said after receiving the New York State Senate Liberty Award. "It was less about heroism and more about someone watching over me and making sure the circumstances were right in many ways."

Morahan called Mitchell a hero for protecting the children.

"It was a very special time in the lives of the children of this school district when their hero, the superintendent, put forth his body to protect them and take on a challenge that was very scary," he said.

Jaffee presented Mitchell with a citation from the state Assembly.

"Dr. Mitchell: No award or even words can measure up to your incredible bravery and courage of your actions the other day," she said.

When Mitchell accepted the award, he was the one thanking people, such as security guard Tony Pellegrino.

"Tony did what he was supposed to do," Mitchell said. "He acted professionally. He used his police experience in that he did not escalate the situation; he allowed us time."

He also had kind words for the Orangetown Police Department.

"They were incredible," Mitchell said. "They continue to be so."

After the ceremony, Pellegrino said he'd seen situations like this before, but said he "wasn't on equal ground" this time.

The co-presidents of the middle school student government, eighth-graders Zoë Ferranti and Yvonne Cheng, also thanked Mitchell and Pellegrino during the ceremony. "On behalf of the students, we would like to thank Dr. Mitchell and the staff for keeping us safe during the code red," Ferranti said.

"We would also like to thank Tony, the security guard, for alerting the police," Cheng said. "And we'd also like to thank the Police Department for making sure we were safe."

After the ceremony, students said they felt very safe after Tuesday's incident.

"Based on the way the teachers acted, we can tell that we go to a safe school,"said seventh-grader Erin Albin, also a member of the student government.

"We were never in danger," added seventh-grader and student government member Siobhan Monaghan.

Jaffee also invited the assembled student government members to come up to tour the State Capitol in Albany to learn more about how government works.

During his speech, Mitchell joked about one of the police officers, Matthew Ryder, who responded to the situation.

"Ironically, I ran into one of my student ice hockey players - I coached the Nyack hockey team for nine years - he was one of the officers who broke into the office," Mitchell said.

"I didn't realize that until after the event. So it was good to see him again."