Wood Slams HHS Gun Incident Timeline Lapse: ‘Seconds Mean Lives and We Were Lucky’

Haverhill High School. (WHAV News file photograph.)

The lack of a 911 call after a Haverhill High School sophomore allegedly brought a gun to campus was deemed “unacceptable” by School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. Thursday, with Mayor James J. Fiorentini admitting those involved “under-reacted” to the threat of potential school violence.

Debriefing the committee for the first time since the July 29 incident, Superintendent Margaret Marotta—joined by Principal Glenn Burns—confirmed that there was a nearly nine-minute gap between the time the 16-year-old allegedly brandished the weapon and the time Haverhill Police were dispatched to the Monument Street campus.

According to Marotta, the incident began at 10:30 a.m. when a teacher text messaged her supervisor letting them know she was concerned a student in her classroom may have a weapon. At 10:31 a.m., the program director and school security located and approached the student.

Three minutes later, at 10:34 a.m., the student exited the building and ran, with a security guard and staff member chasing him while simultaneously calling over radio to school administration for assistance. At the same time, Marotta said, Haverhill High School’s School Resource Officer and the Haverhill Police Department’s dispatch line were called. At 10:40 a.m., police were sent to the campus.

Although Marotta places the start of the incident at 10:30 a.m., an official who asked not to be identified confirms to WHAV the student first brandished the alleged gun closer to 8:30 a.m. At least one student saw the gun but did not report it to police until the next day.

Despite several searches, a gun was not found.

Wood was among the first to call the school department’s response a “fundamental breakdown,” and urged Marotta to rebuild public trust—fast.

“There shouldn’t be a delay. Seconds mean lives in those situations. Our response was simply unacceptable. We must do better. We must restore faith in parents that our buildings are safe and our staff knows what to do. There’s no way around it: If you talk to anyone in law enforcement, the lack of 911 call is simply a very, very big mistake,” Wood said.

Thursday’s presentation from school officials comes on the heels of WHAV’s extensive public records request to clarify the cloudy timeline of events. The City of Haverhill partially responded to WHAV’s extensive requests Aug. 14 and promised to consider providing more information within 25 days.

Fiorentini agreed the situation could have been handled differently.

“Sometimes I think with some incidents, I think we overreact, but in this one, we under-reacted. There should have been an earlier call to 911,” he said.

Marotta and Burns said ALICE training strategy (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) and a school building audit were already in the works prior to the gun incident, but have been expedited given recent events. There are plans to train teachers prior to the Aug. 27 start of school and roll out age-appropriate lessons to students, parents and families in the current months, Marotta said. The district is also efforting an ALICE certification.

As WHAV previously reported, the student at the center of the gun incident has been charged with several offenses related to the July 29 event. The juvenile was initially arraigned in Lawrence Juvenile Court for carrying a firearm without a license, trespassing, carrying a dangerous weapon on school grounds and possession of a class E drug. Later, he was arraigned on four counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and two counts of alleged assault and battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and attempt to commit a crime on another incident in two other, unrelated cases.

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