School locked down after gunshot

No one hurt in incident at Old Mill High

revolver found hidden in bathroom


December 18, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

A gunshot in a hallway of Old Mill High School in Millersville yesterday forced the building into a two-hour lockdown but did not injure anyone or cause significant damage, police and school officials said.

Anne Arundel County officers found a .38-caliber revolver hidden in a men's bathroom about two hours after the 11:30 a.m. incident. Police had no suspects early last night.

Old Mill will resume its usual class schedule today, officials said, but police officers will be at school and might randomly search lockers and people. About 2,350 students attend the high school, which is attached to two middle schools.

The shooting - near the art room on the ground floor - appeared to be accidental, said Lt. Joseph Jordan, a county police spokesman.

It was the first time in memory that a weapon had been fired in a county school building, Anne Arundel County school officials said.

"It's frightening," said schools spokeswoman Jane Beckett-Donohue.

"When something like this happens, it scares us because of the possibility of what can occur when a weapon is in a school."

Students characterized Old Mill as a safe school but said they couldn't help but think of the shootings in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado, which left 12 students and a teacher dead. The two shooters, high school seniors, killed themselves.

"When they told us that someone had a gun and that it went off, people kind of laughed," said Kevin McGowan, a 16-year-old junior.

"But it was sort of a nervous laugh."

About 11:30 a.m., a teacher and a student in a ground-floor classroom heard a loud noise in the hallway, Jordan said.

The teacher peeked out but saw no one and notified school administrators, he said.

A school resources officer permanently assigned to Old Mill found a bullet in the hall and observed that it appeared to have been fired almost directly at the tile floor, Jordan said.

Officers surmised from the trajectory of the bullet that the shooting was accidental.

By 11:45 p.m., Principal Arlenzard Liverman had declared a "code red," requiring that students remain in their classrooms under adult supervision, school officials said.

About 40 officers soon swarmed the building's perimeter.

During the building search, an officer found a gun concealed behind a toilet in a men's bathroom down the hall from where the bullet had been found.

Teachers shut their classroom doors and told students not to leave for any reason. Although the principal made five public announcements assuring them that they were safe, students didn't find out until five minutes before dismissal that a gun had been fired.

The lack of information frustrated some students and angered parents who had heard rumors of police activity at the school.

"Teachers kept saying that nothing had happened, but we couldn't leave our classes even to go to the bathroom," said Rootvij Patel, a 15-year-old sophomore who had been stuck in the cafeteria all afternoon.

"They just left us in suspense. ... We didn't know what to think."

When students streamed out of the school after dismissal, many immediately used their cell phones to call their parents. Some greeted parents who had driven to the school upon hearing of the lockdown.

Barry and Tina McCrimon stood in the freezing rain outside the school scanning the crowd for their 16-year-old son, Justin.

When they asked officers and school administrators what had happened, the couple said, they were told that they had to leave the premises or would be escorted off school property.

"What about our rights as parents?" Barry McCrimon asked moments later.

"And when I called the school earlier, they told me they were busy doing their job and not to bother them," Tina McCrimon said. "But my job as a parent is to check on the safety of my son."

Beckett-Donohue said school officials focused on keeping students safe and might not have had access to information.

"It's chaotic when you have something like that", she said. "At different times, the office people had no idea what was happening in different parts of the building."

Police will continue to search for clues to who brought the gun into the school and why it was fired, Jordan said. Charges could include possession of a handgun, he said.

Although guns have been found on school property several times over the years, Beckett-Donohue said, school officials could not recall another time when a weapon was fired in a building.

Sun staff writer Laura Loh contributed to this article.

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