Haverhill Council Leaves Student Gun Questions Unanswered; Officials Report Missteps

Haverhill School Superintendent Margaret Marotta with Mayor James J. Fiorentini. (WHAV News file photograph.)

There was no emergency 911 call last week when a Haverhill High student was spotted allegedly with a gun, the item may not have been a gun at all and an initial lockdown of the school was quickly halted when police reported they had the teenager in custody.

These were among very few questions answered Tuesday night as Haverhill city councilors reviewed circumstances surrounding the gun-related arrest of a 16-year-old summer school student. Other key questions were overlooked and new ones prompted as Mayor James J. Fiorentini and school Superintendent Margaret Marotta stood before councilors.

“I believe in this situation the SRO (school resource officer) was contacted rather than 911 being called because things happened so quickly and simultaneously that the student was apprehended almost as quickly as things were happening in real time,” Marotta told members.

The superintendent explained she first learned of the incident when she received a telephone call from Principal Glenn Burns. She said she ordered a lockdown and continued to talk with Burns as she drove from City Hall to the high school. While en route, she added, Burns reported the student was already in police custody and she changed the order to a “controlled release” of pupils.

Marotta was with Fiorentini when the principal’s call came.

“A child who was there—wasn’t part of our mandatory program; wanted to be part of summer school—lifted up his arms and people saw what appeared to be a gun. Now, we don’t know if it was a real gun or a replica gun. We don’t know if it was paint gun. We don’t know if it was a pellet gun. We don’t know if it was loaded or not,” Fiorentini said.

Omitted from the discussion was a timeline of events and the amount of time that elapsed between notifications between the “people” who the mayor said saw the gun, a security guard, school resource officer, other police units, teachers and the principal. A timeline would have helped explain how the student got as far away as Broadway’s 200-block before being taken into custody and after claiming to have ditched the weapon. More than a week ago, WHAV formally asked for answers to these questions.

Marotta said there is a need to conduct more drills with staff and students to better respond to such threats.

While Deputy Police Chief Anthony Haugh was present in City Council Chambers, he was not invited to speak.

The discussion took place with the backdrop of recent shooting deaths in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, looming large.

Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, who placed the item on the agenda, initially suggesting metal detectors be installed. Fiorentini said Haverhill High School has at least 37 doors and many ways to avoid detectors.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan, a member of Haverhill High’s class of 1979, expressed his emotions. “Back then, a fight was with your fists, not with a gun. It’s really difficult to even try to discuss my feelings on the subject because I never thought there’d be a day—or the day would come—when metal detectors would be discussed.”

Members, led by Bevilacqua, agreed to defer to the School Committee to consider additional security measures at all public schools—possibly with the extra state education money coming from the state.

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