Skidmore College spent Tuesday night under a police-assisted lockdown while authorities in three states hunted a man who allegedly threatened to shoot a female student he knew.
Lance C. Leonard, 49, a transient last known to reside in the Martha’s Vineyard area of Massachusetts, was arrested by police officers in Atlantic City, N.J., shortly before 7 a.m. Wednesday in connection with threatening phone calls and text messages made to a female Skidmore student in her early 20s. He is facing a felony charge of coercion, Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III said during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.
“[Leonard and the student] were having an alleged relationship of some kind. She was trying to get away from this man and she wanted to break up with him,” Murphy said. “We’re alleging that he was threatening her and threatened to cause her physical injury if she broke up with him.”
College and Saratoga Springs officials became aware of the threats Tuesday afternoon when the student’s father alerted them to phone calls he was receiving from Leonard and shared his fears for his daughter.
“Leonard was threatening to shoot his daughter and then himself,” said Saratoga Springs police Lt. John Catone.
At that point, campus safety was alerted and they began searching for the student, whom they found in class. Prior to attending class, Catone said the student, who is not being identified, had been made aware of some of the phone calls her father received, but wanted to go to class.
“We were on board. … At no time do I believe she was in harm’s way,” he added.
The student checked her phone after class ended early Tuesday evening and found text messages from Leonard saying he was coming to campus to kill her.
Catone said they learned that Leonard had a criminal history and mental health issues, which in conjunction with the threats prompted a campus lockdown at 7 p.m. According to an online sex offender registry, Leonard is a registered sex offender in Nevada, stemming from an assault with intent to rape conviction almost 30 years ago in Martha’s Vineyard.
The lockdown included the posting of police officers at three different entrances to the campus. People were not allowed to enter, causing a backup of cars at the North Broadway entrance, and initially people were not supposed to leave campus.
“Everybody was on a heightened sense of awareness,” he said.
The student, who lives on campus, was taken to a remote location and kept safe.
Shortly after this procedure went into place, police in Massachusetts shared their belief that Leonard was on his way to Saratoga Springs. Because of his criminal history, Catone said police in Massachusetts were able to track his phone. The tracking determined he was in downstate New York, which led police to believe he was traveling by bus to Albany and then Saratoga Springs.
Leonard had previously traveled to Skidmore, most recently in late November, by bus. Police checked incoming buses to the city and in Albany until 1 a.m.
The ability to track his movements ended after midnight, when Leonard turned off his phone. About five hours later it went back on and he was detected in the Atlantic City area. His location was narrowed down within an hour, and Atlantic City police found him outside the Taj Mahal hotel.
Catone said Leonard was taken into custody without incident and without a weapon on him. Catone said he didn’t know why Leonard was in Atlantic City, as Saratoga Springs police hadn’t questioned him as of Wednesday afternoon.
Murphy said it is possible that Leonard could be arraigned in the city as soon as the end of this week, but extradition issues could complicate and delay the process. Ultimately, officers from Saratoga Springs will need to go get Leonard.
The charge of first-degree carries a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison.
Classes returned to normal at Skidmore College on Wednesday.