Article by Daniel Farber Huang
April 9, 2018
PRINCETON, N.J. – Ross Teixeira sat casually among the other lunch patrons at Panera Bread cafe across from Princeton University, almost three weeks after a gunman was shot and killed by local police inside the restaurant.
Teixeira, a Princeton computer science graduate student from California, said he doesn’t feel either more or less safe around town since the shooting occurred. “My parents were really concerned when it happened but things have calmed down since,” he said. “They know Princeton is a relatively safe place.”
On March 20, Scott Mielentz, 56, entered Panera Bread on Nassau Street across from the campus gates with a firearm shortly after 10:00 a.m. Customers and employees fled the building.
According to the N.J. District Attorney, a standoff between police and Mielentz continued for about five hours. After negotiators attempted unsuccessfully to get the suspect to surrender peacefully, Mielentz was fatally shot by police shortly before 3:00 p.m. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Princeton University students and faculty were on spring break and the campus was less populated than usual when the shooting occurred. Two campus buildings closest to the restaurant – Henry House and Scheide-Caldwell House – were evacuated by the university during the standoff as a precaution.
Princeton University Tweeted a Campus Alert and Hourly Updates During the Incident, March 20, 2018.
University spokesperson Scott Hotchkiss said, “The University’s Department of Public Safety closely monitored the situation and coordinated with the municipality of Princeton police. The University’s response was made possible by the Department of Public Safety’s strong relationship with the Princeton Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.”
The university’s Department of Public Safety operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is comprised of 108 members according to its website.
According to Hotchkiss, the university offers a wide range of safety information and resources to the campus community, including self-defense classes, after-hours escort service, safety presentations and information on its website, including a link to a video by the Department of Homeland Security on how to respond to an active shooter situation.
Officials from Panera Bread did not respond by press time to requests for comment.
Panera is located on Nassau Street, one of Princeton’s main commercial areas, and is surrounded by numerous shops are other restaurants.
Sarah Nickelson, the general manager at the Triumph Brewery next door to Panera, said she and her coworkers were forced to shelter in place during the standoff and weren’t allowed to leave their location until after the standoff ended.
“It’s a tragedy for the shooter and his family, for the employees at Panera and the local police,” said the Princeton native.
Nickelson said now she isn’t concerned about her personal safety but she is concerned about the general well-being of people in the area, including her friends working at Panera. Nickelson said Triumph has had a wonderful relationship with Panera and the local police.
Customers inside Panera Bread in Princeton on April 7.
The Panera shooting occurred 34 days after 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were shot and killed and 17 others wounded by former student Nikolas Cruz.
Spurred by the Parkland shooting, students organized a national March for Our Lives rally on March 24. According to Princeton organizers, 5,000 people were estimated to have attended the rally in front of the Princeton Public Library.
Truimph Brewery general manager Nickelson believes the strong turnout for the Princeton’s March for Our Lives rally was bolstered in response to the Panera shooting.
On the day of the rally, marchers posted their protest signs on the windows of Panera, which was shuttered for renovation following the shooting. The signs were removed by the next morning.
An employee at Ricchard’s Shoes a few doors down from Panera said he didn’t see any noticeable difference in foot traffic since the Panera shooting. He believes the recent winter snowstorms have been more of a deterrent to business than the public’s concern about personal safety in Princeton.
According to media site NJ.com, Panera shooter Mielentz suffered PTSD from his Army Ranger days. As physical injuries caught up with him, the father of two became a self-described "loner" who suffered from hallucinations, anxiety and depression, based on information found in public records.
The Panera shooting is being investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team. All N.J. investigations into police deadly force incidents follow strict procedures for conducting shooting investigations.