DANVERS — Classes at St. John’s Prep resume Wednesday after a hoax report of an active shooter on campus led to a lockdown of the school as numerous law enforcement agencies responded to the scene.
Danvers police Chief James Lovell later explained that a Danvers officer also accidentally fired his service firearm while inside a Benjamin Hall bathroom investigating the scene, which rapidly escalated the potential threat level and response.
Officials said the “accidental discharge” of a firearm by the officer did not result in any injuries. No one else was in the bathroom when the discharge occurred, police said.
Town Manager Steve Bartha told the Salem News on Tuesday that the officer is a veteran member of the force who is in good standing. He did not release the officer’s identity.
The officer was exiting the bathroom when his gun accidentally misfired and shot into the tile floor, Bartha said.
The State Police is conducting ballistic testing in the incident and the Danvers Police Department wrote up an incident report Tuesday, Bartha said.
The town and police department will “review the situation against policy” and ask the Essex County District Attorney’s Office to review it as well, he added.
“At this point, it appears it was an accident,” Bartha said. “The question is going to be what comes out of the report and if it suggests whether there’s a training that should happen.”
A spokesperson for Essex County District Attorney Paul Tucker said that office was not actively investigating the incident as of Tuesday morning.
The officer was given the day off Wednesday but has not placed on official administrative leave, Bartha said.
The incident remains under investigation. More information will be released Wednesday, Bartha said.
“Once we have a sense of what happened, we’re going to share the results with the DA and go from there,” Bartha said.
Danvers Police Chief James Lovell did not respond to a detailed email sent Tuesday with questions about the “accidental discharge,” including the who the officer was who fired the weapon, what kind weapon it was and if any damaged occurred.
A state police spokesperson could also not be reached for comment on the incident.
A statement posted on the school’s website said all classes for students in grades 6-11 were canceled the day after the incident, with classes and after-school activities planned to resume on Wednesday.
Students and parents were able to enter the school’s campus from 8 to 11 a.m. Tuesday morning to pick up personal belongings, according to an email sent to families Monday.
School officials had also previously said that a team of counselors will be available to support students, faculty and staff following the incident. Comfort dogs will be on campus later this week, according to the email.
“Our primary goal is to make sure that everybody was safe, and now we reflect on what’s happened, take what we’ve learned and prepare for the future,” Head of School Edward Hardiman said at a press conference following the incident Monday.
Students flee on foot via highway
Students, faculty and staff initially sheltered in place shortly before 2 p.m. Monday, when the school received word of a potential threat to students. They were escorted to a tent used in the school’s commencement ceremony over the weekend while officers swept campus buildings for any threats.
Some students who were inside the Leo and Joan Mahoney Wellness Center at the time of the incident fled into the woods along the campus.
Harwich resident Nicole Libby was driving south on I-95 near the school when she saw about 20 students and a male staff member running down the opposite side of the highway around 2:30 p.m.
“I saw boys coming out of the woods in a line and then running in line north I think toward an exit ramp,” Libby said. “They looked just like my own son in his school uniform: Khaki shorts and navy polos.”
Immediately after, Libby counted more than 17 police cruisers speeding down the highway — a jarring scene, she said.
“It struck me that (the boys) were all running fast,” she said. “No one was walking or straggling behind. So dangerous to have those kids out along the highway. I hope the hoaxer is caught and punished.”
It was emotional as parents and neighbors gathered in the Summer Street area near the school as the situation developed. Even more so at a Stop & Shop on Newbury Street, where students were reunited with their families Monday afternoon, many crying and visibly shaken.
As the Salem News reported Monday, Karen LeBlanc, a parent of a freshman at the school, was in the middle of cleaning the bathroom when she got a text from her son. She called him back, hearing him pick up and whisper from under his desk that there was a shooter at the school.
“I was in a panic, I didn’t really know what to do so I just started calling other parents,” LeBlanc said. “You hear (about) these things all the time and it’s scary even when it’s on the other side of the country, but this feels way worse.”
One text from a student to his family read, “I want to tell all of you that I love you,” a message his father received Monday afternoon as he enjoyed a sunny game of golf not far from the school, Donna Healey said in an email to the Salem News. Her grandson was one of 273 students to graduate from the school Saturday.
“How devastatingly sad it is to think that any student would have to think to send a message like that to his loved ones on a day as beautiful as this one,” she said.
Other schools on lockdown
Just down the road from St. John’s Prep, Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School went under stay-in-place orders during the incident, as did students at Smith Elementary School on Lobao Drive.
The elementary school delayed its usual release time at around 2:30 p.m. until about 3:30 p.m. Monday, Bartha said. Officials from Town Hall, Danvers police and Danvers Public Schools agreed that there was no reason not to allow other schools to release as normal, he added.
Some parents complained on public social media forums that the district did not inform families of this directly, and several contacted school administration about the matter Tuesday, Bartha said.
“We’ll certainly sit down and have a follow up with the schools so we can all think about what, if any, adjustments we want to make to the protocols that are in place,” Bartha said. “The release was already starting and we allowed it to continue, and some of the parents would have liked to know that, and I think that’s fair.”
Town officials worked as quickly as they could to learn about the situation, he said. Chief Lovell was at his desk doing payroll when he got a call about a potential threat at St. John’s Prep, and was at the school within five minutes, Bartha added.
“I heard the calls coming in about an active shooter situation on a police scanner in Town Hall, and I think because we all see enough of this on the news, you become numb to these stories when they’re happening across the country,” Bartha said. “But to hear that locally, it was wrenching.
“The overarching takeaway from this is that we’re all super proud of the response from Danvers police, Danvers fire, state police, the incredible support from area agencies, and really the professional job that the administration at St. John’s did managing a stressful situation,” he continued.
Staff Writer Michael McHugh contributed to this report.