Police officers remained on scene Thursday night at the Gaudet Middle School conducting their ongoing investigation into a possible weapon on site, following an earlier two-hour lockdown in which students were not allowed to leave or be dismissed following the regular close of school.
A Middletown Police Department press release and a separate School Department notification sent to parents and media stated that the lockdown occurred after a student reported a weapon in the facility. Neither statement named the weapon but officials have stated the threat was thought to be credible.
"We assure you that at no time was anyone in the building in danger," Middletown School Department Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger stated in the message sent to parents by email.
A K-9 police unit entered the school shortly after 5 p.m. as the police continued a search of the building inside. At least two different police K-9 dogs were seen entering the facility.
After the nearly two-hour lockdown, student dismissals began around 4 p.m. and by 4:30 p.m. the last school buses had rolled away. Students were not allowed to leave the school with backpacks or coats as the police search continued inside the school.
Grade 7 student Zachariah O'Connor was met by his mother Gail outside the main entrance at dismissal. He was in the computer lab at the time of the lockdown when the announcement was made and students there were told to get under their desks and remain quiet, he said. He remained there under the desk for about an hour, he said.
"I ended up taking a nap," O'Connor said. "I woke up when the police came by our room."
He said the police searched the students' backpacks before they were allowed to leave.
Another student described how several students got emotional when the initial announcement was made and a few began to cry, he said. The teacher calmed them, he said.
Several students and parents in the parking lot outside the school said that an overheard conversation in a student restroom about a weapon had prompted the lockdown, but they did not know what the weapon was. Others speculated that a hoax had occurred, because the school went through lockdown and safety drills just one day earlier on Wednesday.
Gaudet Middle School entered lockdown on Thursday beginning around 1:50 p.m., with all students kept inside past what would have been the close of school at 2:10 p.m. Crowds of parents waited outside, along with a long line of school buses and Rhode Island and Middletown police officers.
Ron Smith and Kevin Bruneau were among the many parents who waited patiently outside for either more news or for their children to be dismissed.
"He wasn't home at 2:30 so the red flags went up," said Smith, who heard about the lock-down from another parent. "It's a scary situation when any parent hears that."
School Department officials said that the automated message response system to alert parents was activated and an automated message was sent our to parents at 1:53 p.m. on Thursday.
Periodically between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m., school officials and Middletown Police Chief Anthony Pesare walked out of the building to notify people that students were "okay," but that they were following safety protocols for a situation inside.
During a school lockdown that occurs as a result of suspicious activity, everyone in the school must turn off lights, draw the blinds, locks the doors of each classroom or other room, and stay out of the line of sight from windows and doors, according to a school official.
On Wednesday, the Gaudet School had conducted a lockdown drill, the school official confirmed.
When the real lockdown occurred on Thursday, some parents outside the school questioned why they had not heard about the lockdown directly from the School Department when it occurred.
Kraeger's statement sent to parents on Thursday afternoon also addressed those concerns, stating: "Due to the urgent nature of the incident and the fact that it happened at the time of dismissal, there was a delay in notifying parents of the situation through our connectED"
The statement continued, "An email was sent to the Gaudet Parent List Serve at 1:53 p.m. The safety of our students and staff is our top priority at all times. We recognize the urgency of communicating with our parents in every manner possible and take this matter very seriously. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused."
Patch will report more as we learn it.