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Report of man with gun leads to arrest, lockdown at JFK Middle School

  • Northampton and State Police responded to JFK Middle School early Thursday afternoon for a report of a suspicious person on campus.  —Emily Cutts

  • A police officer carries cases and a box that reads Gamo ACCU Whisper after removing the items from a sedan nearby June 7, 2018 following report of a suspicious person on school grounds at JFK Middle School in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Sarah Jackson, a parent of two children at JFK Middle School, waits for them outside the Northampton school June 7, 2018 after it was placed on lockdown following report of a suspicious person on school grounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Police officers give instructions on how to pick children up from JFK Middle School June 7, 2018 after dismissal was delayed due to a lockdown following report of a suspicious person on school grounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Bill Miller and Kristel Applebee wait for their daughter to be dismissed from JFK Middle School June 7, 2018 after the Northampton school was placed on lockdown following report of a suspicious person on school grounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Brian Turrell, left, is reunited with his sixth-grade son Jonathan Turrell, 12, after dismissal from JFK Middle School was delayed due to a lockdown following report of a suspicious person on school grounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Tania Maldonado embraces her stepdaughter, Genesis Otero, after Otero had been released from a lockdown at JFK Middle School after Northampton and state police responded to a report of a suspicious person on school grounds Thursday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tania Maldonado walks with her step daughter, Genesis Otero after Otero had been released from a lock down at JFK Middle School after Northampton and State Police responded to a report of a suspicious person on campus Thursday afternoon June 7, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Parents and students wait for students to be released from a lock down at JFK Middle School after Northampton and State Police responded to a report of a suspicious person on campus Thursday afternoon June 7, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tania Maldonado embraces her step daughter, Genesis Otero after Otero and other students had been released from a lock down at JFK Middle School after Northampton and State Police responded to a report of a suspicious person on campus Thursday afternoon June 7, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Parents and students wait for students to be released from a lock down at JFK Middle School after Northampton and State Police responded to a report of a suspicious person on campus Thursday afternoon June 7, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anabel Rosero, left, walks with her daughter Anaisha Feliciano, 12, after Anaisha had been released from a lockdown at JFK Middle School in Northampton, Thursday. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Parents and students take turns walking into JFK Middle School to pick up students who were waiting to be released from a lock down at JFK Middle School after Northampton and State Police responded to a report of a suspicious person on campus Thursday afternoon June 7, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Parents and students wait for students to be released from a lock down at JFK Middle School after Northampton and State Police responded to a report of a suspicious person on campus Thursday afternoon June 7, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John Provost, Superintendent of Northampton Schools, John Cartledge, Northampton Police Captain, and Major Michael Habel with the State Police, at a press conference at JFK Middle School after Northampton and State Police responded to a report of a suspicious person on campus Thursday afternoon June 7, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Police surround a young man in handcuffs sitting on a curb outside of JFK Middle School in Northampton, Thursday, following report of a suspicious person on school grounds. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@ecutts_HG
Friday, June 08, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — City police arrested a man at JFK Middle School Thursday afternoon after the school was put on lockdown for a suspicious individual carrying a gun on campus.

More than a dozen local and state police cruisers responded to the middle school on Bridge Road for the incident. Northampton Police received a report at 2:10 p.m. of a male with a gun in the rear parking lot. The first officer arrived at the school in less than a minute and found the man, according to police.

Northampton Schools Superintendent John Provost said after the incident that the school immediately went into lockdown procedures and that the man never breached building security. After police determined there was no risk to the school, students began to be released, Provost said.

At Northampton High School, where students had already been released for the day, any students who remained on campus were allowed to leave in a controlled release, according to Provost. The district’s elementary schools went into either lockdown or shelter in place until they got the all-clear.

No injuries were reported.

“The students and staff did an excellent job exercising the procedure that we drill on time and time again throughout the year,” Provost said.

Information on the man’s connection to the school was not immediately known and the exact charges he may face as well as his identity were not immediately released. The incident remains under investigation.

By around 2:30 p.m., a young man in handcuffs was observed sitting on a curb surrounded by police near the school’s tennis and basketball courts as police removed items from a sedan nearby. Police said they recovered two air rifles.

Families react

At that time, many families and parents had already arrived to pick up their students. Many still did not know what was going on or when their student would be released from school, although the heavy police presence was impossible to overlook.

An automated call went out to students’ families at around 2:45 p.m. notifying them that the school was in a lockdown and that students would not be dismissed on time.

Sarah Jackson, who has two students at the middle school, said there was a strange atmosphere as she was driving to the school but didn’t know what awaited her when she arrived.

Standing waiting for news of what was going on, her phone finally rang with news from the automated call informing her of the incident and that the school was on lockdown.

She said she was angry incidents like this keep happening.

“It’s scary,” she said. “It’s really scary. I don’t know what to think. It shouldn’t be happening. It really shouldn’t.”

Parent Kerry Chambers said she was happy to learn the person involved in the incident was apprehended outside of the school, saying it made her feel more secure.

Even so, Chambers said she was disappointed that this incident was so close to home. Before she received details from another parent and the automated call, Chambers said, she thought maybe a bear was on school grounds.

Parents Kristel Applebee and Bill Miller came to pick up their student after receiving the automated call. Applebee said their daughter normally takes the bus. She said they have had many conversations with their daughter about incidents such as these.

“Middle school is hard enough without this,” Applebee said.

Although her daughter has a cellphone, Applebee said she knew not to reach out because it could make noise.

“That’s the hard part, not reaching out when you want to,” she said.

Lockdown ends

As the normal release time came and went, parents continued to wait for their students to come out of school. Slowly, they began to be released as the lockdown was lifted.

Students who normally walked or were picked up by parents were released first. One of the first students out of the building’s side door yelled, “Never again am I doing that,” as he walked to collect his bike. As more and more students began leaving the building, some appeared excited and unaffected, yelling “we’re free,” while others calmly walked to their parents.

“I didn’t know what happened,” one student said.

“I tried to call and text you multiple times,” another student said to his parent.

Brian Turrell came to pick up his son and said as soon as he pulled into the school’s parking lot, he saw police cruisers. Waiting for his son to get released from school, he said he was “freaking out.”

Turrell said he hadn’t talked to his son about such incidents.

“You don’t think it’s going to happen to you,” he said.

As students began to be released from the school, Turrell moved closer and closer to the door looking for his son, Jonathan, 12. Seeing his son, the two hugged and Turrell said he felt better now that Jonathan was out of school.

Anabel Rosero and her daughter Anaisha Feliciano were visibly shaken, standing next to each other in front of the school. Tears in her eyes, Rosero said it was the worst thing that ever happened to her.

“I’ve never felt this. I was scared, I didn’t know what was happening. Confusion,” 12-year-old Anaisha said, adding that she didn’t start crying until she saw that her mom was crying. “As a student, I don’t wish this upon anyone”

Anaisha said she was in technology class about to give a presentation to a banker to see how large of a fake loan she could get when the school was put in lockdown.

“We thought it would just be 20 minutes,” she said of the lockdown, which lasted more than an hour.

Rosero doesn’t normally pick Anaisha up from school, and said she knew when she got the automated phone call form the school, it wasn’t with good news.

“My heart dropped,” she said. “It’s a scary thought just to even go through this.”

Students to wear black

The Pioneer Valley Students For Gun Control, a coalition of student groups from more than 15 schools in the Valley, announced late Thursday that many Northampton students will wear black clothes to school on Friday to serve as a visual representation of their unity after a traumatic event, and that they are not done fighting for stronger gun safety laws.

The group lauded the efforts of police and school officials Thursday, before criticizing politicians for lack of action on gun safety laws.

“Legislators haven’t handled the issue of gun safety as efficiently as Thursday’s event was handled,” the group wrote in a press release.

The student group noted that the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday passed a “red flag” bill. The bill, already passed by the House, awaits the governor’s signature before becoming law.

“It’s absurd that Massachusetts, arguably one of the most progressive states, doesn’t already have these protective laws established,” the press release said.

Halle Pashkin, a JFK seventh-grader and an organizer of the school’s walkout in March around the issue of school shootings and gun violence, said she was shocked by Thursday’s events.

“It was terrifying to just sit in the dark on the floor of the computer room thinking that another school shooting could take place, hoping that it was nothing and everything was a dream. It was pitch black and only a few cries and whispers could be heard. No one ever thinks that things like this can happen in Northampton.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.