UPPER DARBY — An Upper Darby High School student has been arrested and charged after bringing a pellet gun to school that initiated a lockdown of the building Thursday morning.
Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said a 16-year-old male will be charged with bringing a weapon onto school grounds putting the school of 3,700 students and hundreds of staffers into lockdown for about 80 minutes.
According to Chitwood, it was about 8 a.m. when a care aide saw a gun drop to the floor.
“It (the gun) was kicked across the third floor hallway and the kid picked it up and took off,” said Chitwood. School officials were notified and lockdown mode was put in place.
Police departments from Upper Darby, Haverford, Millbourne and Springfield, among others, responded to the school “within seconds” according to Upper Darby Acting Superintendent Dan McGarry.
Police looked over surveillance video footage of the incident and were able to make an identification of the alleged gun-carrying student. Officers made their way to two classrooms located on the second floor of the school.
“We went in two rooms and in the second room we got the kid,” said Chitwood. “In the crotch of the kid was a plastic gun capable of firing live projectiles.”
The student, who has not been identified, was taken into custody without incident and the lockdown was lifted around 9:30. There were no injuries during the lockdown and the student did not threaten anyone with the weapon, according to Chitwood.
Chitwood said the student brought the gun to school because he was planning to fix it for his brother.
“I looked at that gun and there was nothing broken on it,” said the chief, adding that it looked so real that if it was pointed at a police officer, “you would get shot.”
The school day was set to resume as normal when the lockdown was lifted, but parents were starting to gather at the high school who were expressing frustration about what was happening with the threatening situation and why their children were not being released from the building. The district was posting information on their website and social media accounts as events were unfolding and ParentLink phone messages were sent out districtwide. Upper Darby police was also updating their Twitter account as the lockdown unfolded.
Chitwood said he heard that parents were concerned by the supposed lack of information on the situation and came to the high school to get their children right away.
“I tried to calm them down and explain to them that the primary goal is to make sure the children were safe,” he said. “There’s a protocol that has to be followed and that’s what we’re trained to do.”
In a lockdown situation, students are not to be released from their classrooms or the school until the threat has been diminished.
The school and police reactions to the lockdown were a “textbook example” of what should be done, Chitwood attested. He said the hallways were cleared as police were in the building and that one of the classrooms police tried to enter had the door barricaded and everyone was huddled in a corner of the room with the lights off.
As police went into the two classrooms looking for their suspect their guns were drawn and there was some hesitancy by students about what was going on.
“We got them (the students) up because we were looking for the bad guy and we patted them all down,” said Chitwood. “One of the officers explained to them what was going on, what we were doing, why we were there and what the protocol is. It’s a matter of communication of what to do.”
Upper Darby Police Officer Mike Scott spoke to the students in the two classrooms they entered looking for the student and the gun, and after speaking with them, Chitwood said, the police were seen as the “savior” in the experience and the fear dissipated.
“It’s a very stressful situation for everybody, but we’re trained,” he added.
Due to the amount of parents who arrived at the high school to pick up their children, all students were dismissed starting at 11 a.m.
Upper Darby Acting Superintendent Dan McGarry said Thursday morning he was sorry about the anxiety the event caused and that he appreciated the school community’s support, “as we always keep our children’s safety as our top priority.”
He commented further in a message posted to the district's website on Thursday afternoon about trying to resolve the matter in a safe matter.
"As a parent myself, I know how unnerving it is to think that your children could be in any danger, but rushing to the campus during a lockdown impedes our ability to keep our students and staff safe. As difficult as it must have been to sit and wait for updates, I truly appreciate the parents who allowed the police to complete the necessary investigation before lifting the lockdown."
He continued, "There are many positive things that came from this negative situation. Our high school students, staff, and administration responded wonderfully and put into practice all that they have learned from our annual lockdown drills. Our staff saw something and said something, just as they are trained to do. Our central administrative team jumped into action to support our high school administrative team. Our bus drivers and transportation staff responded in a moment’s notice to get buses available for an early dismissal.
"Our security and police department worked together to keep everyone safe. For all of this, and especially for the fact that no one was hurt, I am extremely grateful."
School is expected to return to a normal schedule for Friday. Teachers and administrators will address the lockdown situation with their homerooms that morning. Resources will be put in place for students who are in need of any assistance following Thursday's events.