Rumors of a gang initiation targeting the popular nightclub Toad’s Place spread on Saturday night of Halloween weekend. New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman asserted that the rumors were false.
One message, sent to a sororitywide Alpha Phi group chat on Saturday evening, said that a Box 63 employee told a few undergraduates of a rumor of a gang initiation at Toad’s Place, during which members would look to kill 30 individuals. The message added that the police are “aware and going to be swarming the place with teams and undercover guys.”
“[The rumor of the threat] was spreading like wildfire through the group chats,” said Orven Mallari ’21.
By the end of the night, the rumors had made it to personal, club, team and residential college group chats, including the Yale Dems; dance groups such as Sabrosura, Danceworks, Steppin’ Out; sports teams such as the fencing, rugby and softball teams; sororities and fraternities such as Kappa Alpha Theta, Alpha Phi, Sigma Nu, Sigma Phi Epsilon; and residential college group chats at Davenport, Jonathan Edwards, Morse, Pierson and Pauli Murray, as well as classwide chats for both 2022 and 2021.
Of 102 undergraduates surveyed by the News, 81 said they had heard about the threat on the night of Oct. 27. Several students added that they heard he rumors from various different sources. Six said that they heard about the rumor only the next day.
David Hartman, New Haven Police Department’s media liaison told the News Sunday afternoon that the threat was false. He said the department vets information as they receive it, and then deal with the situation in accordance with the department’s policies.
“This was a student rumor and it was fabricated,” Hartman said. “Sadly, this type of false report has become all too common.”
Hartman said that the department would not comment on the specific threat “as the press’ reporting of it supports the criminally culpable idiots that started and perpetuated this ado about nothing.”
Late Saturday night, a student posted on Overheard at Yale, a Facebook group with 14,227 members, noting “rumors about a possible gang-related event taking place at Toad’s tonight.”
The student added that they were not sure if the rumor was a Halloween joke, but advised members of the group to stay safe.
Yale spokesperson Tom Conroy commented on the post that evening that the Yale Police Department and the NHPD are aware of the rumor going around, and they have “confirmed there is no validity to it.”
“[Yale Police] Chief Ronnell Higgins confirmed YPD has additional uniformed and plainclothes officers on duty this evening as it is the weekend before Halloween and they expect a lot of activity on and around campus,” Conroy said.
He added that as a precaution, community members should stay aware of their surrounding at all times, and trust their instincts if they feel unsafe.
Conroy told the News the next day that Chief Higgins wanted the community to know the facts about the rumor that was going around.
Carl Carbone, owner of Box 63, said that three Quinnipiac students at the bar told a bartender on duty of the threat. According to Carbone, the students showed screenshots of a Facebook chat that said Toad’s was being targeted for a gang initiation, and that its goal was to kill 30 people. Carbone added that having some sense of detail — with the number 30 — made it seem somewhat credible at the time.
Carbone called a New Haven police commissioner that he knew to make him aware of what the bartender had heard. Whether or not it was credible, Carbone felt he needed to alert authorities.
“I don’t think I could live with myself if I had heard that something could happen, and I didn’t say anything,” Carbone said.
The commissioner came to Box 63 to speak to the three Quinnipiac students, as well as with Carbone. From there, the commissioner called the New Haven Police Department, Carbone said.
Carbone received a large number of messages from Yale students who had “heard bits and pieces” of the threat. “Kids were constantly reaching us to see if it was safe to come to Box that night,” he said. While business continued as usual, he said that he and his employees were more alert.
“It’s Halloween, I know everyone’s dressed up,” said Carbone. “Signs that would normally be more obvious — clothing, dress, behavior — become a little more normal looking mixed in a more Halloween-style atmosphere.”
Box 63 Event Manager Christianne Rozsa said that while she was focused on a party that she was managing at Box 63, these rumors “make you nervous no matter what.” She also felt a concern for personal safety as she has to pass the area of Toad’s to take the train, but added that she had faith in the police department.
Carbone said that as a citizen and business owner near Toad’s, he felt the responsibility to take it as a credible threat.
“The customers that come to Toad’s are the same that come to me,” Carbone said. “I feel like they are like my children sometimes.”
Valerie Pavilonis ’22 first thought the rumors were a mistake or prank, she said. But as more people started to confirm the threat, she was “shocked” to realize that something violent may actually occur so close to Yale.
“Well it is not safe to assume anything anymore in today’s climate,” said Mallari, who said that overall, he was not scared the night of the threat. “I’m glad the police think it’s a hoax, but I wouldn’t go risking my life for a night at Toads, you know?”
Sam Maniscalco ’21 said that he was slightly concerned after receiving the same text from so many different people. However, he was also skeptical of the threat’s validity.
“I mean, a 30-person massacre in New Haven seemed unlikely,” he said.
The night of the threat, he decided to walk by Toad’s to check out if there was any indication of the threat’s validity.
Carbone said that some students who visited Box 63 reported an increased police presence outside of Toad’s.
On the night of the threat, two Yale Police Department officers were on duty outside of Toad’s. They said that they were walking beats — and that they were “always out” on Friday and Saturday. The two officers said that they had not heard anything about the threat.
Two New Haven officers patrolling the outside the Toad’s area said there is typically police presence outside the nightclub on the weekends.
Toad’s Supervisor Billy O’Mara, who was checking IDs at Toads on Saturday night, said that increased police activity was due to Halloween weekend — not anything internally within Toad’s.
“We’re still open, right?” he said. “If there was anything we would had to be worried about, we would have closed to be safe.”
Toad’s Place opened in 1976.
Sammy Westfall | firstname.lastname@example.org