, Newburyport, MA


May 7, 2013

Better response needed for school lockdowns

It’s sad that we live in a time when the threat of a gunman shooting children in their classrooms is a real possibility, one that everyone must train for.

But what happened last week at Pentucket Regional High School shows us that no matter how much training occurs, there is always a scenario that wasn’t in the playbook.

Unfortunately, that has left a direct impact on one Pentucket senior who unintentionally triggered this response.

On Friday morning, the school went into a lockdown when it was reported that a gun was found in the building. Police from throughout the region, plus K-9 units, descended quickly on the school. Close to a dozen different police jurisdictions were on the scene within a matter of minutes. They were deployed and organized quickly, and soon a “gunman” was apprehended and a room-by-room search was under way.

That was the part that demonstrated how good police and schools have gotten at coordinating their responses. It gives us confidence that a crisis would be handled with the utmost competence.

But as the day wore on and the details of what spurred this event came out, it became clear that this was not a situation that endangered the school. It was a misunderstood matter that triggered a massive response, a response that was well beyond what was truly needed.

The student in question had found a prop gun in the school’s drama department and put it in his bag. It was seen by another student and reported as a real gun. In the moments that followed, police confronted the student, who has a developmental disability known as Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition that can make it hard to grasp social cues and situations that most people naturally understand.

According to the student’s defense lawyer, the student didn’t know how to respond appropriately. He kicked a police officer when he was being searched, and a small pocketknife was found. He was arrested on a variety of charges, including assaulting a police officer.

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