Saturday November 3, 2012

BENNINGTON -- An unfired bullet found in a Mount Anthony Union Middle School hallway caused the school to be locked down for more than two hours Friday.

Bennington Police secured the school shortly after a .22 caliber cartridge was found around noon. No other ammunition or guns were located.

The school remained in lockdown until school buses arrived and students were dismissed at the regular release time of 2:15 p.m.

After the bullet was found the administration instituted a "stay in place" in the school, which kept all students in their classrooms.

Police and Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Superintendent Catherine McClure and Principal Timothy Payne, who was taking a personal day Friday, were contacted immediately.

"When I arrived on the scene here administration had done an excellent job. Everyone was in a lockdown mode. The administrators were out searching in the particular pod ... where this cartridge had been found and they were looking for additional cartridges or a firearm," Police Chief Paul Doucette said.

Following dismissal, police and staff searched every locker in the school and no other ammunition or firearms were found.

Payne said it is not clear who brought the .22 caliber bullet to school. Officials said it is possible the bullet was brought accidentally by a student who hunts.

"It is hunting season," Doucette said. "This could be as innocent as the cartridge falling out of someone’s sweatshirt pocket, or out of their pocket if they went to take money out.


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But the bottom line is this type of paraphernalia is not allowed in school, and it is very alarming and very concerning."

Prior to dismissal, sixth-grade students were moved to the cafeteria and seventh- and eighth-grade students assembled in the gymnasium, where administrators told them there had been a safety issue.

Students were sent home with a paper to alert parents there had been a security concern, and the school had been locked down.

Students were not allowed to go to their lockers at the end of the day except to retrieve medication, keys or something else they could not go without. On Monday, Payne said, students will be able to access their lockers again.

As parents arrived to pick up their children police attempted to ease their concerns, but nobody was allowed to enter or leave the building until dismissal. Some parents expressed anger that they were not notified of the situation, but school officials said they do not have the resources to contact parents of 600 students on that short notice.

Some schools have mass communication systems in place in which parents are sent texts, automated phone calls, or e-mails, but McClure said no SVSU schools are equipped with that technology. A telephone alert system has been discussed and the supervisory union has the software to do it, although McClure said that has been considered too expensive.

Payne said the school had not practiced a lockdown drill this year, although they have been done in previous years.

Given the rarity of the situation, everyone involved said the emergency response procedure was smooth.

"I was very impressed when I arrived, because everything was in order. The lockdown was done correctly, properly. You could have heard a pin drop. All the protocols in place were being followed by the staff and students," McClure said.

Next week school and police officials will go over what worked well and what can be improved. School psychologists will be at the school Monday in case any students want to speak with them.