HAMDEN, Conn. — As the graduating seniors waited to march onto the sun-splashed quadrangle at Quinnipiac University, whispers circulated about the reason for an unexpected delay: The commencement speaker was missing. The president was running late. The sound system was broken.
The rumors were all wrong. Hamden police say that one of their own, a 22-year-old from Quincy in a cap and gown, had called in a pair of bomb threats in a last-minute attempt Sunday to keep her family from discovering that she had left school and pocketed the tuition money.
The move failed, with not just her family but much of the online universe discovering that Danielle C. Shea had allegedly phoned in the threats to try to conceal her secret, her forlorn mug shot bouncing around social media as Shea spent the night at the police station and the next morning in court.
By midday Monday, 80 news agencies from around the country had called Hamden police for a copy of Shea’s picture and details of her arrest, Captain Ronald Smith said.
The former dean’s list student, who the school said had not been enrolled for a year, managed to disrupt but not cancel the ceremony.
Citing an unspecified “security threat” — to minimize fears for nearly 400 College of Arts and Sciences graduates and thousands of relatives — campus officials asked the crowd to relocate from the quadrangle to the school’s basketball and hockey arena a mile and a half away, a Quinnipiac spokesman said.
About the same time the ceremony was finally beginning (an hour and a half late, about 7:30 p.m., police were closing in on Shea in the crowd at TD Bank Sports Center and pulling her out for questioning. Working together, campus security and Hamden detectives had quickly tracked the threatening calls to Shea’s iPhone, court records say.
Questioned at the arena, Shea admitted to making the threats, stating “that she panicked and made a mistake,” Detective William C. Onofrio wrote.
Shea was arraigned in Meriden Superior Court on charges of first-degree threatening and falsely reporting an incident. A woman named Kathleen Shea posted $10,000 bond. Danielle Shea is due back in court June 2, according to court records.
Her number had been disconnected by Monday afternoon, and a woman who answered a phone that appeared to be registered to Kathleen Shea declined to comment. No one answered the door at Shea’s North Quincy home address.
From afar, former classmates from Quinnipiac and Fontbonne Academy in Milton said Shea was a former track and field athlete — she still holds Fontbonne’s triple-jump record — and a diligent student who was well liked.
They struggled to understand what caused her to drop out last year while keeping up appearances on campus and online. Former classmates said she posted on Facebook about senior week until shortly before her arrest.
Shea made the dean’s list in spring 2012, posting a grade point average of at least 3.5, but was last enrolled in May 2013, when she had enough credits for sophomore standing, Quinnipiac spokesman John Morgan said. That meant she appeared to be behind her matriculating class.
Shea had no disciplinary or academic issues, but left school for financial reasons, according to the police spokesman. She told investigators that she had trouble registering for classes at the beginning of this academic year “due to a delinquent balance.” Instead of telling her mother, she tried unsuccessfully to handle the situation herself, according to police.
That appeared to come to a head Sunday evening at the private university in southern Connecticut. Two other undergraduate commencement ceremonies had gone smoothly when a Quinnipiac Public Safety dispatcher answered a startling call at 5:38 p.m., with the arts and sciences graduation approaching.
“Bomb in the library,” Shea allegedly said, according to a transcript of the recorded line, prompting the dispatcher to say, “I beg your pardon.”
Shea, who had purchased a cap and gown, apparently panicked after her family did not see her name in the program or at a check-in table where parents can arrange to take pictures of their graduate walking across the stage, police said.
When her call did not have the desired immediate effect, Shea called back five minutes before the ceremony was to begin, police said. “Several bombs are on campus,” she allegedly told the dispatcher. “You haven’t cleared out graduation. That is not a good idea.”
• Man with two guns arrested outside Boston University
• Harvard undergrad arrested in bomb hoax
• Security for large Boston events is toughened
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at email@example.com. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.