The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 2, 2009

CCHS student arrested after threats

Threats written on the boys bathroom wall last week at Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) led to cancellation of all after-school activities for two days and a strong police presence at CCHS on Friday, complete with metal detectors and a bomb-sniffing dog. On Friday, police arrested Concord resident Gregory Collison, 18, a senior at the school.

According to a press release from the Concord Police Department, Collison was charged with two counts of “a threat involving a deadly device that disrupts a school,” a felony, and two counts of “disturbing a school assembly,” a misdemeanor. He was held without bail over the weekend.

On Monday, September 28, Collison had an arraignment and bail hearing at the Concord District Court. The court entered “not guilty” pleas on his behalf on the following charges: two counts of a “school disturb[ance],” two counts of a “bomb/hijack threat with serious public alarm” and one count of a “threat to commit crime.” He was released on $1,000 cash bond with two following conditions: “to stay away from Concord Schools” and to avoid speaking with a witness about the case. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled in court on October 27.

First threat found Tuesday

It began on Tuesday, September 22, when a message written on a wall in a boys bathroom was discovered. At that time, the school Incident Management Team and the Concord Police convened, and CCHS Principal Peter Badalament defined it as a “disconcerting incident” in an email message that he sent out to CCHS parents. The message said, “It was determined that the statement did not represent a significant threat to the students or staff of CCHS.” Other steps taken at this time included increasing the police presence and notifying faculty and students. The North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) was told of the incident, but their assisstance was not requested at that time.

The Incident Management Team includes school resource officer Scott Camilieri, the principal, vice-principals Alan Weinstein and Jessica Truslow, Special Education Chair Tom Keane, teacher representative Johanna Glazer, school nurse Christine DeBruzzi, Guidance Department Chair Allison Furey, adjustment counselor Dan Simone, Athletic Director Barry Haley, Building Services Supervisor Steve Wall, a representative from the Concord Fire Department and a variety of special education and guidance personnel as needed. Badalament said the team reviews emergency plans and practices working through various emergency scenarios.

Second threat on Thursday

Things escalated when a second message was discovered on a boys’ bathroom wall on Thursday, September 24. At that time, the NEMLEC was called in. Their School Threat Assessment and Response System (STARS) team worked with local police and school administration to make sure that students would be safe in school on Friday.

STARS was created in 1999 to help the region’s more than 500 schools to enhance school safety and prevent threats and violence in schools. They help school systems develop, implement, practice and evaluate safe-school plans. This program is a partnership that coordinates the efforts of NEMLEC police chiefs and its affiliated public school superintendents and fire chiefs. It helped with response efforts at CCHS on Thursday and Friday last week.

Interestingly, Badalament worked on the first STARS team and received significant training ten years ago when he was working as an assistant principal at CCHS. He explained that each of the communities contribute a police officer and a school representative and they are “on call” on a rotating basis for STARS, where they may be called in to respond to any school-related incident at other schools.

Badalament sent a second message to parents stating, “A second statement of threatening nature” had been found. All after-school activities for Thursday and Friday were canceled. Back-to-School Night and the “Kicks for Cancer” soccer game were postponed. School would be open on Friday, but students were not allowed to bring backpacks, lunches had to be in clear plastic bags and students would pass through metal detectors. The entrance to the school was limited to two doors and there would be a strong police presence at the school.

“STARS responded with 15 law enforcement officers from different communities, three canine units, metal detectors and a SWAT team was staged nearby,” said Badalament. “They really helped out in a number of ways. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. They searched the building Thursday night making sure access points were secure to the best of our ability, and checked for devices or weapons. The faculty was instructed to be much more vigilant and present in hallways and common areas.” Parent volunteers from the CCHS Parents Association also helped out.

Security tight on Friday

Friday morning, September 25, Badalament sent out a third message to reassure parents that precautions had been taken and the school was very safe. “Teachers and students are having a relatively normal day. The Concord Police along with regional support are doing an outstanding job monitoring the campus and the halls.” He thanked staff and parent volunteers for their efforts.

Badalament said that over half of the student body came to school As he walked around CCHS, the number of students in a class varied greatly. Some classes had 20 of 24 students, some had half the students, while one class had only four students attending.

Families’ response varies

Many parents felt the security measures at the school provided sufficient safety and allowed their children to attend school on Friday. Eugene Lavely, a father of a senior and a freshman, said, “School officials wouldn’t allow students to go back in school if they thought there was any real danger.” Tim Parson, the father of a junior and a sophomore said, “We thought the administration had the situation under control.” Molly and Bryan Sorrows felt comfortable sending their freshman twin daughters to school. Several people expressed high regard for CCHS Principal Peter Badalament. Claudia Veitch said, “I think a lot of Mr. Badalament. I have faith in his judgment.” She added that she also respects the administrative team. Elizabeth Parson said, “I think Mr. Badalament handled it beautifully. I was really impressed.” She liked getting the daily updates.

Others chose not to send their children to school; however, fewer people were willing to be quoted for reasons they had for keeping their children home. Some left the decision up to the child. Some students felt fear or anxiety about going. Nancy DiRomualdo, mother of a senior said, “The family was uncomfortable with the situation at the high school.” Lara Lofdahl, mother of a senior, said, “I felt that if they needed metal detectors, no backpacks and lunches in clear bags, I didn’t think it was safe enough to send a child.”

“I got a significant number of phone calls,” said Badalament. “Many had questions and concerns. Some felt that there wasn’t enough information. The majority appreciated the information the school provided and expressed confidence in the school and the police to handle the situation. No one was highly critical,” he said.

Facebook a factor?

Facebook entries may have been a contributing factor to the low attendance rate of students last Friday. Facebook is used by many high school students to communicate with one another. An advantage of using Facebook over using a cell phone is that many participants can see and contribute to an ongoing conversation at the same time. Many student entries Thursday evening conveyed fear of going to school and this may have convinced even more students not to go to school on Friday. Many parents may have been unaware of this phenomenon.

Student arrested

Early Friday evening, Badalament sent out a message saying that an individual had been arrested. “I have every reason to believe that this is the person responsible for the threats at CCHS…I believe that our response to the difficulties over the past few days is a testament to our school community’s strength.” Restrictions on students would be lifted.

On Tuesday, September 29, Deputy Chief Barry Neal of the Concord Police said the police were “still following up with the school,” explaining that “there is a police presence and patrols are checking the school throughout the day.” He is “confident there was only one person involved” in the incident.

“The student that was arrested will be afforded due process rights,” said Badalament. He said there are two ways students are expelled: if a student is convicted of a felony, or makes threats of violence.

Going forward

Badalament added, “The number one thing that keeps us safe is the close relationship between the students and the staff. I can’t emphasize that enough.” He quoted CCHS survey results that 94% of seniors felt connected and could confide in at least one adult at CCHS.

In the coming days, there will be an increased police presence as warranted, but he does not see security being significantly different. He noted, “School is statistically the safest place that anyone can be from acts of violence (nationally speaking), even more than your own home.” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito