Police armed with rifles helped evacuate students from Essex High School Wednesday afternoon after a morning call to Essex Police led to a lockdown at six schools in the area.
Students and staff have been released from Essex High School and a lockout declared Wednesday morning is over. Students and staff at Hiawatha Elementary, Summit Street School, Thomas Fleming School and Albert D. Lawton School were released at their usual times on Wednesday, according to officials.
Update 3:55 p.m. April 13, 2017
Essex Police released a statement Thursday updating the community on the progress of the investigation into Wednesday's threat. Officials say the available information indicates that the threat may have been an incident of "swatting."
The investigation into the Essex High School threat levied on April 12, 2017 is continuing. As a result of the investigation thus far the veracity of the threat has been greatly diminished. Searches of the high school buildings, investigative efforts and analysis of the call have found many consistencies with “swatting”. Swatting involves an individual reporting a fictitious event or threat for the purpose of creating a law enforcement response.
The investigation into the identity of the perpetrator and the motive is continuing. This incident remains a high priority for the Essex Police Department.
A law enforcement presence at the high school will continue as a measure of safety assurance.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Essex Police Department at 878-8331.
Final Wednesday update 4:40 p.m. April 12, 2017
Police and school officials began evacuating Essex High School one classroom at a time just after 2 p.m.
At the end of the school's driveway, parents waited anxiously for their kids, many staring down at their phones to check for updates.
They exchanged tense greetings and chatted about their kids, but none of them agreed to a recorded interview.
One mom said her son's girlfriend started crying when police came into the building with rifles.
Another said her son told her that he was just hungry - the kids missed lunch during the lockdown.
Murtie said Wednesday afternoon that police still haven't identified the suspect, and officers will be providing extra security for schools in the area for Thursday at least.
“I don't know about the rest of the week,” said Essex Police Captain George Murtie. “We do plan on maintaining a presence for some time to come.”
Murtie noted that police didn't find any suspicious items or guns during their search of the school grounds, but the investigation is ongoing.
Updated 1:48 p.m.
According to the Essex Junction Fire Department a tentative release at Essex High School has been scheduled for 2:05 p.m.
"Students will be released [one] class at a time. Pickup will be at Old Colchester Road."
In addition, CCSU superintendent Judith DeNova provided the following:
Educational Drive in front of EHS will be closed for all incoming traffic except school buses. Hiawatha, Summit Street, Thomas Fleming and Albert D. Lawton schools will be released at their normal times and stay in lockout protocol until then. After school activities have been canceled for all six schools. Emergency services were called earlier in the day for precautionary reasons, as there were no reported injuries.
A group of small children were at the daycare center run by the school district's vocational program during the lockout, and one officer led them away from the school as another followed carrying a rifle.
Soon after, high school students could be seen leaving the school and walking toward busses brought in from the surrounding area to help with the evacuation.
Updated 1:04 p.m.
According to Captain George Murtie of the Essex Police Department, police have swept the inside of Essex High School and are in the process of clearing outdoor areas. No guns or explosives have been found at the school. The bomb squad is present as a precautionary measure.
Officials are working to reunite students with their families as soon as it is safe to do so, though Murtie noted that police were still searching outdoor areas near the school.
Parents were asked earlier in the day to not come to Essex High School.
Updated 12:33 p.m.
Murtie says they received a call "from a male subject who indicated that he was in a position to do some harm to students in the school."
An email sent to parents at 12:21 p.m. Wednesday from CCSU superintendent Judith DeNova says the high school is now under a "lockout protocol."
This allows students and staff to leave classrooms but requires them to stay in the building until a ground search has been completed.
DeNova's email says the Essex Police Department have deemed the building safe and that "the person who caused the threat was not in the school."
Six schools, Hiawatha Elementary, Summit Street School, Thomas Fleming School, Albert D. Lawton School (ADL), Essex High School and the Center for Technology - Essex, were locked down Wednesday morning after the threat was made.
Update 11:15 a.m.
According to Murtie they, "received a call about 45 minutes ago from a male subject who indicated that he was in a position to do some harm to students in the school and made some demands.
"All of this information has not been substantiated, but we are in the process of treating it like a legitimate threat and taking steps to secure the building and make sure that there is no threat inside the school."
No injuries have been reported, says Murtie, and both police and administration in the school say no threat has surfaced.
Murtie also said they are in "frequent contact" with the person who made the call.
Updated 10:48 a.m.
In an email sent to parents at 10:42 a.m. Wednesday, Superintendent Judith DeNova said:
Essex Police contacted Essex High School reporting that an armed individual was threatening to appear at the high school. We have currently put all of our schools in Essex Junction under ‘lock out protocol,’ police are on scene. Attendance has been taken and perimeters have been secured.
Essex High School is one of the largest high schools in the state, with approximately 1,251 students enrolled in grades 9 through 12.
The Westford School, which is also governed by CCSU, is not included in the lockdown.