BY JON CRONIN
Concerned parents flooded Community Education Council (CEC) 25’s monthly meeting last Thursday, desperately seeking information on a man who has twice gained access to PS 184 in Whitestone.
According to PS 184 Principal Anna Dimilta, the man has since been identified as Johnny Mariani, 27, who signed into the school as a visitor and went to the main office asking to visit his old teachers. When he was told by the office staff that he could not meet with the teachers, he allegedly argued with them and left under protest, Dimilta said.
Dimilta said that she could hear the exchange from her office, and then followed Mariani to make sure he left the building. She noted his name after he left, but did not call the police. Dimilta said that she was notified over the weekend that Mariani had previously entered PS 184’s gymnasium during a St. Mel’s volleyball game that was open to the public. While there, she was told, he was acting strangely while speaking to students and their parents.
According to the principal, Mariani was asked to leave by parents, but he allegedly did not. He left the gymnasium and entered the auditorium, where he began playing the piano. Dimilta said that the custodian heard him and also asked him to leave, and he complied. A neighborhood coordinating officer then visited the school to fill out a report about the incident.
Dimilta said that on March 6, she heard that Mariani was near the school and instituted a “shelter-in,” which involves locking all of the doors in the school as activities go on as usual.
“I act first and then ask questions,” said Dimilta.
Mariani could not be reached for comment.
Police said that they have learned that Mariani lives within three blocks of the school. At Thursday’s meeting, members of the NYPD said that they had visited Mariani’s home. The officers said that they had spoken with Mariani and determined that he needed to be mentally evaluated. He went to Elmhurst Hospital, but was released since there was nothing physically wrong with him, police said during the meeting.
On March 7, police arrested Mariani at a local grocery store for disorderly conduct. He was in Queens Criminal Court on March 8 regarding that incident and will return on Sept. 7.
Suzanne Catoggio, of the Queens North Commanding Officer School Safety Division, said that PS 184 only has one school safety agent, but she believes that it should have two.
“Every time an agent goes on a meal, it shouldn’t be an aid [at the front desk]; it should be another agent,” she noted.
During CEC 25’s meeting, parents were noticeably frustrated during discussions of protocol on how the police and school administration handle such situations. Attendees said that that they wanted to know what school leaders will do to prevent people from wandering into the school.
Several vocal parents asked to keep the school doors locked all day and have it under the shelter-in protocol for the upcoming week. Dimilta said that she could not keep the school under a shelter-in unless she thought there was an immediate threat.
Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) said that he would inquire about obtaining a variance, so that the school’s doors could remain locked all week.
The 109th Precinct has placed a squad car and officers at the school in the morning and during dismissal every day since March 9.