He slipped in almost unnoticed — an unidentified man wearing a turban and a body-length robe, carrying a small statue covered in a cloth.
He put the statue down on a table by the door in the Thornton Wilder Auditorium Tuesday night, removed the cloth, and exited as quickly as he appeared.
Several at the Legislative Council's committee meeting — both on the council and in the audience — whispered and pointed to the statue, which was about two feet tall and depicted a baker or pizza maker. Council President Jim Pascarella appeared startled and almost immediately stopped the meeting, asking if anyone knew anything about what had just transpired.
When it was clear no one did, panic set in and the room cleared within seconds. Both council and audience members fled out a side door into the parking lot at the .
Chief Tom Wydra, who was in the audience, darted outside to look for the man, who was still in the parking lot — minus the turban and robe.
It was quickly determined that the man, who no one would later identify, had brought the statue in as a joke meant for a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, which normally meets the fourth Tuesday of the month in the auditorium.
But that meeting had been cancelled, and the Legislative Council, which normally would have met Monday, moved its meeting to Tuesday because of Hamden High School's graduation Monday.
The council's meeting resumed normally shortly after the incident. But for several tense moments, when no one knew why the statue was there, it was clear that everyone was thinking that it could be a bomb.
It was about a year ago that the Department of Homeland Security launched its "See Something, Say Something" ad campaign, two months after a man who had been living in Shelton attempted to set off a bomb in Times Square. That incident took place on May 1, 2010, when two street vendors noticed smoke coming from a car that Faisal Shahzad had reportedly rigged with explosives. They notified police, who disarmed the bombs before they went off, and helped avert a tragedy.
That failed bomb attempt prompted the public awareness campaign, which is modeled on one launched in New York City post 9/11 to report suspicious acts, persons and objects. The man's prank Tuesday night made more than a few people suspicious, enough so that they felt the need to flee the building.
"This is one of those 'see something, say something' moments," council member Kath Schomaker said after Pascarella questioned the statue's presence.
The event was totally innocent, Wydra said, and is not under investigation.
Quinnipiac University Political Science Prof. Colleen Driscoll said it is a sign of the times that people would react that way to what turned out to be an innocent prank.
"If he hadn't been dressed that way, would the reaction have been the same?" she asked.
"We have built up so much fear that we don't know how to trust each other anymore, which is terribly unfortunate," she said.
"You're always aware of what's around you -- that is a natural thing," she added. "But to be so fearful that you distrust someone because what they are wearing or the color of their skin or something about them that is different than what we are used to is unfortunate, and taking us so much farther apart from each other when should come closer together to fight the real dangers."