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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) _ A former student claiming to have a bomb was holding six students and a professor hostage inside a university classroom Tuesday night, authorities said.

At one point, there were 23 people inside the Fairfield University classroom, but the suspect released 16 of the students after several hours of negotiations with police, said police Detective Sgt. Gene Palazzolo.

``He's been very calm throughout this entire ordeal,'' Palazzolo said. ``He's speaking coherently and his demeanor is calm.''

The suspect took over the religious studies class at the Catholic school in southwestern Connecticut late Tuesday afternoon, said school spokeswoman Nancy Habetz.

Some 300 students were evacuated from the building, Canisius Hall.

Police Officer Mark Fracassini said police received a call around 4 p.m. saying a former student was on the second floor claiming to have an explosive device.

Fairfield First Selectman Kenneth Flatto described the suspect as a recent graduate. University Vice President Doug Whiting said the former student was carrying either a box or a bag in which he claimed to have a bomb.

``It has not been determined whether the threat is credible,'' he said.

The class, ``Voices of Medieval Women,'' is taught by Elizabeth A. Dreyer, an associate professor. Her husband, John Bennett, was waiting in her office Tuesday night. He said he has not spoken to his wife since the standoff began.

``She is a wonderful, self-possessed and inspiring teacher and a scholar,'' he said. ``She'll bring a great deal of calmness to the situation.''

Student Shannon Flaherty said her roommate was one of the hostages.

``She's definitely in there,'' the 19-year-old sophomore said with tears in her eyes. ``I saw her just hours ago.''

Svetlana Alyoshina, a sophomore working in the university's student center, said students were trying to find out if their friends were safe.

``A lot of people are just looking for their friends right now, because we don't know who is in there,'' she said.

Evening classes were canceled and students were holding a prayer service in one of the residence halls, student Joni Saunders said.

Canisius Hall is home to the academic vice president, the College of Arts and Sciences, the university registrar and other offices as well as faculty offices and classrooms.

The school, founded in 1942, has about 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

Fairfield is about 20 miles from the New York state line.

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On the Net:

http://www.fairfield.edu