GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

December 22, 2012

Reported 'threat' snags GHS

Police patrol school but no gun or message found

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Gloucester Police maintained a presence at Gloucester High School throughout the day Friday after police received an early-morning call from a “credible source,” reporting that the source understood someone had written a gun threat on a bathroom wall within the school.

Police received the call about 6:35 a.m. and sent two officers over to check the bathrooms for any threats, while other officers notified Police Chief Leonard Campanello and the superintendent of schools Richard Safier, according to a police report. Police found no such markings in any of the high school, after checking all of the bathrooms, police said. But, officers were still stationed at entrances to the school throughout the day.

“We are very confident everything is under control,” Safier said about 9:30 a.m. Friday.

But many parents, with the tragic Connecticut elementary school shooting of a week prior fresh on their minds — especially as the City Hall bells rang out Friday morning, memorializing the 20 elementary students and six adults killed in the shootings there — were still worried.

Several of those parents funneled into the school to pick up their sons and daughters and take them out of classes for the day. The school was never evacuated, and classes continued on schedule.

“I don’t want to take any chances,” said parent Kathy Wheeler. “With what’s been going on, I don’t care if that’s a joke. It’s sick.”

A school employee radioed Wheeler’s son’s teacher and, minutes later, he left with his mother, past police officers posted at the main entrance and out to the circular student drop off zone. A few other cars also lined up around the circle, windshield wipers beating against the rain as parents parked and bustled into the school.

But, aside from the school’s main entrance and front offices, the building seemed at a calm even by 9 a.m., with classes running normally. School administrators had visited many of the classrooms, explaining the day’s circumstances to the teens, and the school day continued as scheduled, according to Superintendent Safier.

“It’s business as usual. We’re going to have a full day,” Safier said.

One parent, waiting in the main office to meet with school administrators for a previously scheduled parent-teacher conference, said he would leave his 9th grade daughter in school for the day after witnessing the response of police and school officials first-hand.

“A lot of parents can’t take anything lightly. You have to understand the concern that parents have, but my daughter will stay at school, only because I see that the school’s doing what it can,” said the man, who refused to give him name.

Safier said he sent out information to parents after he heard about the incident about 6:45 a.m., and notified teachers and administrators at the school as the school entered its emergency mode. Safier was also considering hosting a teachers’ meeting for debriefing after school, with attendance voluntary. And, the superintendent cancelled the day’s pep rally, “just to be on the safe side.”

Students who had left school were still allowed to participate in extracurricular activities later in the day, due to the circumstances, Safier said. The girls’ home basketball game, scheduled for Friday night, was postponed, but that was due to a late-day power outages at the school, and was not in any way tied to any reported threat.

Police had been conducting daily security checks at city schools since the Connecticut school shooting last Friday, according to Campanello.

“We do it just to give a little bit of extra attention to the school’s in the wake of what happened in Connecticut,” Campanello said.

The city’s memorial to the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings went off as planned, with Mayor Carolyn Kirk and other city officials attending that ceremony, which featured the ringing of Gloucester’s City Hall bells. That event was also in conjunction with a national memorial 26 seconds of silence in honor of the 26 Connecticut school victims, with many radio and TV stations across the country also falling silent at 9:30, the reported time the Connecticut shootings began exactly a week earlier.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.