By Julie Manganis
---- — DANVERS — Just days after a school shooting in Connecticut left 20 children dead, a Danvers teenager allegedly wrote “Everyone dies 12/19/12” on a bathroom wall at Manchester Essex Regional High School, according to officials.
Gabriel Lambert, 17, of 86 Collins St., Danvers, a student at the Manchester school, was arraigned Thursday afternoon in Salem District Court on charges of threats, vandalism and disturbing a school.
After being held overnight at Middleton Jail, Lambert was released from custody at the courthouse yesterday morning after being fitted with a GPS monitoring bracelet, a condition of his release set by Judge Matthew Machera while the case is pending. He was also ordered to remain confined to his home and will be required to undergo a mental health evaluation.
Lambert pleaded not guilty to the charges and has denied being the author of the threats, which he was the one to report the morning of Dec. 18, 2012, four days after the Newtown shootings.
His father, Frederic Lambert, in an emotional interview, said police have accused the wrong person and authorities are overreacting because of the Connecticut shootings.
“I asked my son, he told me he didn’t do it,” said Lambert. “We stand by him. He’s just 17 years old. He has never done something bad, he has good grades, his teachers love him. He went to the bathroom, he saw the threats. He told me he went to the office.”
The messages, in the second-floor boys bathroom, included the phrases “Everyone dies 12/19/12. No Mercy,” and “Don’t obey their policies.”
School officials contacted police immediately after Lambert reported finding the messages. They also notified parents in a letter, and cancelled after-school activities.
That afternoon, Manchester police conducted a sweep of the Lincoln Street campus, and found nothing suspicious.
The following day, 125 students were absent, compared with a typical 35 to 50 absences at the 486-student school.
Assistant principal Paul Murphy referred questions about the incident to Superintendent Pamela Beaudoin. Beaudoin did not return a phone message seeking comment yesterday afternoon.
School officials and police viewed surveillance video of the area near the bathroom and then questioned the students they saw going in and out in the period between school opening and Lambert’s report.
Questioned by school officials in the presence of his parents last month, Lambert adamantly denied being the person who wrote the messages.
His father said that even as police leaned on his son to confess or face arrest, his son refused, saying that he is innocent.
Police noted in their report that Lambert had spent around an hour in the building before signing in as “tardy” shortly before the threats were reported. The surveillance video showed him visiting various locations in the school, including the bathroom, before signing in.
His father said his son sometimes arrives to school before his first class and takes a nap in the auditorium, and that the staff knows his behavior that day was not suspicious. Lambert also said he believes authorities rushed to judgment, and overreacted solely because of the Newtown tragedy.
Police also obtained writing samples from Lambert and a second student who had been seen going into the bathroom that morning.
After noticing similarities between Lambert’s writing and the writing in the bathroom, Manchester police eventually sent photos of the messages and the samples to a handwriting expert, Barbara Harding of Concord, who said the samples appeared to match.
Days after receiving that report, Manchester police obtained a warrant for Lambert’s arrest.
He was taken into custody by police Thursday afternoon at the school, where he had continued to attend classes after the incident.
Lambert turned 17, the age when individuals in Massachusetts are charged as adults, 10 days before the incident.
“I believe him 100 percent,” said his father. “I have spent days and days with the staff of the Manchester High. They told me they gave the information to the police. We were totally surprised that he was put in custody yesterday.”
Lambert said school officials had told him that his son would not be expelled, but they learned Thursday that he has now been barred from returning to school. His parents, who had planned to send him to college in the fall, are now worried about their son’s future education.
“When we heard the prosecutor say the school is afraid, that’s a lie. They’re not afraid of Gabriel,” his father continued.
“When he told me that night he reported it, I thought ‘Ah, they’ll suspect you,’ and I was right,” said his father.
Lambert’s attorney, Patrick O’Malley, declined comment outside court.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, firstname.lastname@example.org or @SNJulieManganis.