by JASMINE ELSHAMY Photo & Video Editor
Three former NYPD detectives who worked on a high profile biggest criminal case visited and gave a presentation to Mr. Calella’s Constitutional Law classes on Wednesday, March 20. Retired Lieutenant Louis Fiori (Detective Squad Commander), Retired Sergeant John Scrivanni (Immediate Supervisor), and Retired Detective Vito Peragine all worked on the Andre Rand serial kidnapping/suspected murdering of special needs children during the 1970s and 1980s.
One of MTHS’s favorite security guards, Mr. Bob Certo, helped organize this event for the law students. Mr. Certo is a former Lieutenant of the NYC Police Department and was assigned to the Detective Unit that was assigned the Rand case. Mr. Certo has remained close friends with these men, which is why he was able to bring in the three detectives.
“I really liked this presentation, and although it was a bit of a disturbing topic to touch on, I thought it was interesting and loved how we talked to people firsthand and got that insight,” says senior Alexa Black, one of Mr. Calella’s law students.
The Rand case has origins with the urban legend of “Cropsey,” an escaped mental patient who wandered the abandoned grounds of Willowbrook Mental Institution in Staten Island. According to the legend, he would come out at night and kidnap children from the streets.
Willowbrook and all of the atrocities going on inside its walls were first discovered by Gerardo Rivera, a reporter looking for his big break. He visited Willowbrook with a camera crew and got footage of the horrid conditions at the institution. All of these young children with mental disabilities were naked on the floor, covered in their own feces.
Eventually, Willowbrook was shut down and then abandoned, leaving it a feared location that made it easy for people like Andre Rand to live on its grounds without getting caught.
Unfortunately, the legend of Cropsey became disturbingly real with the psychopath Rand, who used to be a physical therapist at Willowbrook. He somehow ended up staying on the abandoned grounds of the mental institution and made it his home. From his various secret lairs, he would maneuver and plan his kidnappings and murders, such as that of Jennifer Schweiger, Holly Hughes, and Tiahese Jackson.
The entire community was very dedicated to finding these girls, especially considering the fact they were that much more helpless due to their mental disability. It left them vulnerable and easier to manipulate simply because they did not know any better.
“When there is a child with mental disabilities, the police go a little crazier to find them,” says Sergeant Scrivanni.
The detectives gave some insight into why it was so difficult for them to find these girls when they first went missing, and why it was so difficult to convict Rand of murder.
“[Living at Willowbrook]…it gave [Rand] such a knowledge of this place. I mean, I’ve been there, those buildings are a complex, maybe three times the size of [MTHS]. All of the buildings were connected by underground tunnels… It’s our opinion that he had the little girl [Schweiger] down there, but there was no way the average cop even knew there were tunnels down there,” says Sergeant Scrivanni. “We couldn’t find anyone that worked at the place, no one we could interview! We had to discover this stuff on our own.”
Willowbrook seemed to have played a big part in Rand’s kidnappings, for the detectives told the students that Rand had found someone else staying in the underground workings of Willowbrook as well, someone who was helping him. Although, one would think he would not need much help kidnapping and murdering mentally incompetent young girls who were not able to even think on their own, let alone defend themselves.
Rand also did not prove to be an easy person to get talking once they caught him.
“We got this guy in the squad room, and it was like talking to a wall. Awful,” says Lieutenant Fiori.
Just because there was no verbal confession nor any direct evidence of murder does not mean the detectives were not able to serve justice to Rand for his wrongdoings with the girls. They were able to twice convict him of kidnapping and put him into jail for 25 years to life based on what little evidence they had, including the eye witnesses’ testimony.
Not only were the detectives able to provide a wealth of information and understanding of this tragic case, but they were also able to give the students insight as to actually working in the law enforcement field.
“A lot of times, with the experience you get, of course, you learn to just go with your gut. It becomes a skill, and many times you may be right, and sometimes you will be wrong,” says Detective Peragine.
The students learned a lot from the detectives and were able to really tap into what they were saying from having watched the documentary on this case, “Cropsey,” and having discussed it in Mr. Calella’s class.
“It was interesting how they spoke about the case because it was experience and insight you can’t get from the movies or the news reports,” says junior Shreyas Hirday, another one of Mr. Calella’s law students.
Rand is serving consecutive 25-years-to-life sentences for two kidnapping convictions. He is not eligible for parole until 2037, when he’ll be 93 years old.