An alleged incident that led to a school lockdown and the arrests of three Johnston High School students on Wednesday has been deemed a hoax by school and police officials.
“We had a lockdown on Wednesday; it was Wednesday morning immediately following a fire drill at the high school. During the fire drill a student heard another student talk about a weapon and apparently they were discussing it with other kids,” said Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr. “Luckily that student reported the incident. The building was placed on lockdown as a safety precaution, it was inspected and no weapons were found. The students were identified and appropriate consequences will be given.”
According to the superintendent, the incident occurred after 11:30 a.m. and lasted approximately 15 to 20 minutes. He said the three students had various levels of involvement in the incident based on the comments they made.
“The police response was immediate, they were great. We had a resource officer there who was on it. Police immediately came over from their headquarters, went through the whole building, inspected the building, determined it was safe and we allowed the school to go back into session.”
Some students did leave the high school early following the incident. DiLullo said that one of things that typically occurs during such events is that children will contact their parents through electronic means almost immediately.
“The school department did send out an all-call to Johnston High School families to let them know the school was in lockdown. Once the situation had been deemed cleared another all-call was made to say the school was all clear,” said DiLullo.
DiLullo did state that he heard from some parents that some parents and guardians received blank messages when the phone calls were made, and that the district has contacted and is working with the vendor to correct the issue.
“The students are no longer in the school right now,” said DiLullo, adding that they had been suspended. Expulsion remains an option for punishment, however that action would require approval from the Johnston School Committee.
“The school is safe and, in fact, I feel a whole lot better that someone reported this immediately. The administration, faculty and staff knew exactly what they needed to do and I compliment them,” said DiLullo.
DiLullo said that the district has a standing Safety Committee that will meet and review policies as to how the schools respond to emergency situations and address additional concerns.
Johnston Police Chief Richard S. Tamburini and Deputy Chief Joseph Razza stated that, following their investigation, they firmly believe that the alleged incident was a hoax. They added that the incident, in light of recent events such as the recent school shooting in Florida, was extremely serious but also provided an opportunity to test their resources and response times.
“The students in question made these comments so that other students would overhear it, they were trying to be tough guys. The lockdown was a good opportunity to do an exercise,” said Tamburini.
Tamburini said the three students involved, all of whom are minors, were taken to the station and that their parents were called. “We assured ourselves that there were no weapons or anything inappropriate at their homes. They were charged and suspended for 10 days, they may get expelled, who knows,” he said.
While he said that the incident was “boys overacting,” he added that a good example was made and that the department response was immediate. He stated that the police department would also have initiated a robo-call to the community had the event been an actual shooting.
“Something like this, it takes all of our resources, we’re pulled from everywhere in the town and beyond,” said Tamburini. “We don’t want any hoaxes, because it’s just like the real thing, everything is deployed.”
Deputy Chief Razza said that the trio has been charged with disorderly conduct and conspiracy, both petty misdemeanors.
“They will go to Family Court, the Juvenile Detective will do a Family Court petition on them, and they’ll be summonsed to Family Court,” said Razza.
Tamburini said that the parents of the accused were extremely upset at their children’s behavior and that they have cooperated with all questions and requests posed by the police department.
“We have to be all in on something like this. It’s serious, very serious, and we took it seriously,” said the chief. “It was a hoax, but these kids need to be properly punished, a 10 day suspension, charged criminally, which could result in expulsions. It’s that serious.”
Mayor Joseph Polisena said he was notified by Chief Tamburini when the incident occurred.
“If anything, what I’m happy about is that another student heard it and reported it, which is important. It was just stupidity on the part of these young men, and this is kind of like a black eye for them,” said Polisena. “We take everything seriously, but the good thing was that the police department did a fabulous job.”
Along with complimenting the response effort of the police department, the mayor also said he appreciated the outstanding efforts of the high school staff.
“The teachers did a fabulous job. Mr. (Dennis) Morrell, the principal, that guy is super. That guy is no nonsense, he takes no hostages so to speak and I’m impressed by him,” said Polisena.
Polisena said he will be meeting with school officials shortly to discuss additional security measures. He added that the students will have to face consequences, including expulsion. He added that if they are expelled, state law requires that a tutor be sent to their homes. He hopes that, through Family Court, a harsh punishment is metered out to the suspects, including up to 100 hours of community service.
“Thank God that someone heard something and said something, and that’s key for our children. If they hear something, say something. If they see something, say something. Whoever the person was that reported this, I credit that person, that person is the hero as far as I’m concerned,” said Polisena.