The organization says a vicious sword attack on the Albany site will not deter its ‘determination’ to serve the homeless

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ALBANY — The organization that runs a homeless shelter where a staff member was seriously injured this week by a sword-wielding mental patient released a statement Thursday saying the incident will not derail their resolve to continue to serve “the most vulnerable in our community.”

“Our essential work must continue and will continue,” said Janine Robitaille, executive director of the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless. “Our facilities exist for the purpose of changing lives, helping those in need along their personal journey to self-sufficiency, empowerment and stability. An attack on a person who helps advance this mission is an attack on our entire community and the values ​​we share.”

Robitaille’s statement added that the organization is “increasing” its efforts to protect both the people it serves and its employees and volunteers.

Police dispatch records show someone at the organization’s Community Connections day center on Sheridan Avenue called 911 at 1:43 p.m. Monday and reported a man was bothering another guest. and had to be fired. Within three minutes another call was made to a dispatcher reporting that a man had “attacked the staff” with a knife.

Dispatch notes say the situation quickly turned violent as callers described a man wielding a ‘machete’ and a ‘sword’ and caused devastating head, leg and arm injuries of Jon Romano, 34, who remains at Albany Medical Center Hospital in critical condition. Four minutes after the first 911 call, the dispatcher’s notes said “the man is in the hallway attacking another man.”

Notes seized by dispatchers also included descriptions of the Romano’s serious injuries, including “the left hand is completely detached”. The notes indicate that the arriving officers have begun applying tourniquets to slow Romano’s blood loss.

The Albany man charged in the attack, Randell D. Mason, 42, has only one arrest on his record – a 2002 misdemeanor charge for allegedly leaving a child unattended. He worked as a taxi driver and police sources said he had an extensive mental health history and had contact with police over the years. He was arrested within minutes as he walked near the shelter.

Dispatcher notes indicate that during the attack, Mason was described as wearing a blue “CDPC” t-shirt, an apparent reference to clothing that had been distributed by the Capital District Psychiatric Center.

Mason allegedly retrieved a sword from a locker he was using in the facility moments before the attack.

According to police reports, Mason said, “Yeah, I cut him to pieces, he was disrespecting me.” This report indicates that Mason made this statement “several times” while in police custody. Another report, which says there is also police body camera footage as well as security video of the incident, said Mason noted: “He’s over there all in pieces, said that I was a racist.”

Romano was released from state prison in late 2020 after serving 15 years in custody for his attempted murder conviction and other charges involving a February 2004 shooting inside Columbia High School in East Greenbush. Romano, who was 16 at the time, fired a shotgun at students and teachers before an assistant principal, John Sawchuk, tackled and disarmed him. The gun fired during this struggle, with one bullet hitting and wounding a teacher.

“John Sawchuk is a hero to whom I owe my life,” Romano wrote in a letter he sent to The Times Union in 2018 from state prison. “I know that every time another horrible shooting happens, he and all my victims are hurt again because of what I did to them. I want to take their pain away from them, but knowing that I can’t , I want to prevent others from feeling this pain.”

Romano moved to Albany County after his release. A parole board noted that Romano was unlikely to return to prison and had a “positive relationship” with his family.

A former Sheridan Avenue settlement worker this week praised Romano’s efforts to seek redemption for his crimes as a teenager and said Romano had been open about the mental health issues that fueled his decision to bring a gun at school. Romano, among other duties, ran the shelter’s pantry.

Robitaille said his organization is reviewing its security protocols to ensure staff and guests are not put at risk.

“We have made tremendous strides in the fight for resources and improving lives, and this tragedy will not deter us,” she said in the statement. “It is important to note that this incident was the act of an individual; we pray that he is not the source of the widespread fear of homeless people.

Mason has been charged with attempted second degree murder and remains in the Albany County Jail without bond. A prosecutor told the judge who arraigned Mason on Tuesday that Romano remained intubated and doctors had “reattached” his arms and lower leg but remained concerned about the condition of his leg. He was also hit in the head, according to a police report.

Kristen Giroux, deputy director of the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, told the Times Union on Monday that the organization is “bringing in a trauma response team to support our staff and other guests who witnessed this awful event”.

“It started with an argument and ended with (Mason) attacking our employee,” Giroux said. She added that Mason had “used our center before” and was known to staff.

Earlier this year, Romano spoke to law enforcement officials at an event at the Saratoga Casino and Hotel, where he told the public the importance of looking for signs that students are in trouble. . The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office hosted the three-day school safety conference, where Romano was one of the guest speakers.

No information was released during Tuesday’s arraignment in City Court that would have provided insight into Mason’s mental health issues.

Giroux, the deputy director of the Interfaith Centre, had said: “We, locally and beyond, have a real mental health crisis that we must deal with. As an agency, our mission is to support people who have been turned away by many other programs and agencies that have nowhere to go, and that’s what this center is for.”

The shelter has been open at this location since 2019, but Interfaith’s drop-in center program has been active for 16 years. The centre, which began in 2017 as a $5 million project, also offers apartments for formerly homeless people. The center provides food, access to showers and laundry facilities, and other services.

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