Students are evacuated

Students are evacuated Monday afternoon and picked up by parents as numerous law enforcement officials respond to a report of an active shooter at St. John’s Prep in Danvers.

DANVERS — Town officials released more information Thursday about the accidental shot fired by a local police officer while responding to what turned out to be a hoax swatting call at St. John’s Prep on Monday.

The Danvers Police Emergency Center received a call shortly before 2 p.m. Monday that a person with a long gun was in a bathroom on the school’s campus and intended to harm students, according to a statement from the town Thursday afternoon.

A team of two school resource officers, a detective and a patrol officer were the first officers to arrive at St. John’s Prep and reached the campus within two minutes of receiving notice of the potential threat, the town said.

A preliminary review of the incident shows that the team headed toward the first-floor men’s bathroom of Benjamin Hall. Three officers entered the bathroom to clear any threats while the other stayed in the hallway, the town said.

When the three officers were leaving the bathroom, one of their firearms discharged by mistake as it was being holstered, according to the statement.

“The officer reported that as he did, his index finger was extended along the side of the barrel, which is consistent with his training, and that a secondary piece of equipment interfered with the holstering process, resulting in a single shot being discharged and striking the bathroom tile floor next to the officer’s foot,” the statement said.

The officer who accidentally fired the shot is Detective Christopher Gaffney, who has been a member of the Danvers Police Department for 11 years and was assigned to the force’s Criminal Investigation Division in 2019, the town said.

He has not been placed on administrative leave but has been given a few days off, Town Manager Steve Bartha said Thursday.

No one was in the bathroom or in the immediate area when the gun went off, and no one was injured, according to the statement.

Members of numerous local police and fire departments, state troopers, regional SWAT teams and ambulance personnel converged on the school once Gaffney’s shot went off.

While discharging the firearm was an accident, Danvers police Chief James Lovell said at a press conference Monday that it elevated the situation from a normal swatting response to an actual active shooter situation.

The incident remains under investigation. The town will receive additional documentation from the state police’s ballistics unit to supplement the incident report filed by the officer and an internal review by the Danvers police operations captain, the statement said.

Danvers police will request an independent review by the Essex District Attorney’s Office once the investigation is completed.

“We recognize that Monday’s events at St. John’s Prep caused a significant amount of fear and angst for not only those present at the Prep that day, but also to our broader community,” the statement said. “We are confident that we can take the lessons learned from these events and work together to effect change that will further ensure the safety of our schools and community. We thank you for your continued support.”

Danvers police have participated in ongoing after-action reviews with stakeholders and experts since Monday, the town said.

“The department will use the information gained from these reviews and information learned from the investigation to take any corrective actions and recommended training deemed appropriate,” the statement said.

Some students and staff were already fleeing St. John’s Prep buildings when they heard Gaffney’s shot go off. A group of students ran into the woods around the campus, and a witness said that she saw about 20 students and a staff member running down the side of Interstate 95 about the time of the incident Monday.

Families and neighbors gathered at a tense scene in the Summer Street area during the incident, with many trying to get through to their children.

Students and staff were ushered under tents used for the school’s commencement last weekend once they evacuated campus buildings.

Students were reunited with their families at a Stop & Shop parking lot starting around 2:30 p.m., and classes were canceled at the school Tuesday to help the community heal, Head of School Edward Hardiman said at the press conference Monday.

Comfort dogs and other resources were available to support students and staff once school resumed Wednesday.

“Some of us are going to be OK, some of us are going to be really traumatized by what’s happened,” Hardiman said at the press conference. “Our responsibility is to reach out to each other support each other, care for each other.”

Contact Caroline Enos at and follow her on Twitter @CarolineEnos.

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