The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School was partially locked down Wednesday while a team of Edgartown and Oak Bluffs police searched for a student who authorities feared might have brought a gun to school.
Edgartown police arrested a 16-year-old sophomore in connection with a home burglary the previous day where a handgun was stolen. He was charged with larceny of a firearm, breaking and entering during the daytime and larceny from a house.
After the arrest, it was confirmed that the student, who police declined to identify because of his age, did not bring the stolen gun to school. The weapon was later recovered by police in an Edgartown home.
The scare at the high school came two days after a gunman entered an Amish school in Pennsylvania and killed five students before taking his own life.
Edgartown police were first contacted by a homeowner who reported that he entered his house around 5 p.m. on Tuesday and came to face to face with a young male.
According to Edgartown Sgt. Kenneth Johnson, the two exchanged a brief conversation, after which the intruder fled out the front door.
The homeowner called the police and conducted an inventory of the items in his home to determine if anything was stolen. It wasn't until later that evening, after police had left, that he discovered his Ruger Security Six .357 Magnum was missing from a closet.
The closet was not locked, Sergeant Johnson said.
Sergeant Johnson said police believe the burglar entered the house through an unlocked door, and may have been looking for money or other valuables when he came across the gun. He may have been friends with the homeowner's son, Sergeant Johnson said.
Sergeant Johnson, assisted by officers from the Oak Bluffs police department, arrived at the high school around 10 a.m. on Wednesday. They brought along the homeowner so he could make a positive identification of the intruder.
High school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said the officer told her that a student was suspected of stealing a handgun from an Edgartown home. The officers told her they weren't sure if the student had brought the gun to school, or hidden it somewhere else.
Using the description from the homeowner, police were able to narrow the search to three students. One of the students was not in school that day, while two others - brothers - were located in the same vocational classroom, Mrs. Regan said.
School officials then imposed what Mrs. Regan called a soft lock down.
Administrators went to each classroom and told teachers to lock their doors. No announcement was made over the public address system, and the students were not told what was happening, Mrs. Regan said,
Police then searched school lockers, classrooms and several student vehicles, Mrs. Regan said. After the two students were located and taken off school premises, there was still no announcement, and students remained in their classrooms, Mrs. Regan said.
Ms. Regan said the recent spate of school shootings played a part in the decision not to alert students using the public address system.
"If anything, the recent tragedy [in Pennsylvania] was one of the reasons we didn't want to overreact. Considering recent events we didn't want to create a panic," she said.
School officials also decided not to make an announcement because they were not sure if there was an armed student in the school. Mrs. Regan said officials decided it was better to have police go room to room than to incite a potentially dangerous confrontation between a student and staff member.
"We had three armed officers on the campus, and we felt they were much better prepared to disarm a student then a member of the staff," Mrs. Regan said.
According to several eyewitness accounts, students and teachers were confused about what to do when the bell rang signaling the end of class. Some teachers kept their students in class, while others let them go to lunch. Some students were told by administrators they had to go back to their classes after they left their classrooms, while others were allowed to proceed to the lunchroom.
Mrs. Regan said she talked to several students at lunch who said they wanted to know what was going on. She sent an e-mail to the staff during the lunch period explaining what happened, and then used the public address system to inform the students once lunch was over.
Mrs. Regan said the high school practices lock downs twice a year, so students know the procedures and are familiar with the process. She said the main cause for confusion on Wednesday was the bell indicating the period was over.
In the future, Mrs. Regan said, school officials will likely disable the bells during a lock down.
Overall, she said, students and staff responded well to the situation.
"Everyone was very professional, and we were able to prevent any kind of a panic," she said.
Mrs. Regan confirmed that a student not connected with Tuesday's burglary was charged with drug possession Wednesday after police found marijuana in his locker during their search.