Officials vague on details of ‘accidental discharge’ of officer’s gun at St. John’s Prep | Local News

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DANVERS — Several days after a hoax active shooter report and lockdown at St. John’s Preparatory School, the details surrounding a Danvers police officer’s “accidental discharge” of a weapon in a school bathroom remain unclear.

Police Chief James Lovell spoke of the “accidental discharge” in a 10-minute press conference on the school grounds immediately after the incident Monday afternoon. He has since refused further comment.

Town Manager Steve Bartha did not identify the officer by name, but said Tuesday he was a veteran of the department who is in good standing.

No one else was in the bathroom when the officer exited and misfired his weapon, Bartha said.

The sound of gunfire in the bathroom drew a massive response from local police and firefighters, state troopers, regional SWAT team members and ambulance personnel, officials said.

Hundreds of parents raced to the school to pick up their children. While some sheltered on campus, other students ran from the school toward Interstate 95 and the Stop & Shop Plaza nearby.

A review of the discharge is underway and Bartha said “a summary of our review” would be released, possibly as early as Thursday afternoon.

However, Lovell refused to answer a series of questions posed by North of Boston Media Group Tuesday, including the following:

– The rank, identity of the officer, the firearm and ammunition used?

– If the officer has received specialized firearms training and involved with a regional SWAT team?

– If any other police officers or St. John’s staff members were witness to the discharge and how close by students were?

– If the officer thought a potential shooter was in the bathroom?

Police are also investigating the hoax call. They were alerted at 1:45 p.m. of a “male in a bathroom with a shotgun” who “said he was going to kill everybody,” according to Danvers police radio transmissions.

St. John’s Prep, at 72 Spring St., has roughly 1,400 students in grades 6 through 12. The campus encompasses 175 acres, nine buildings and numerous playing fields which “necessitated a commensurate police response,” according to state police.

There was no school Tuesday in the wake of the incident. Classed resumed Wednesday.

School Committee member Gabe Lopes said he hopes more information is released about how the officer’s gun went off.

“These are professionals that we’re relying on to protect our community and our schools, and whatever information can come out that people can learn from or have a better understanding of the circumstances is always welcome,” Lopes said.

Lopes said his nephew was at St. John’s Prep during the incident and that his two children were at the Smith Elementary School on Lobao Drive, which had a delayed release.

He described officials’ response to St. John’s Prep as “fast and appropriate,” but said he wished information about the accidental discharge came out quicker to help diffuse the situation.

“I wasn’t there,” he continued. “I don’t know what happened, you know, so I’m never going to put myself in the position of that person. and I don’t know the communication protocols of Danvers police, but it is something that was serious. It was a dangerous situation, and as a taxpayer and as a school official, what can we learn from that?”

School Committee Chair Eric Crane said he was proud of the Danvers Public Schools’ response, and the quick response of local law enforcement.

As for the officer who discharged his weapon, “society is awfully quick to look critically” and “blame somebody” in moments of crisis like this, Crane said.

“I am sure that Chief Lovell and his folks are going through what happened and will address it in any way that it needs to be addressed,” he continued. “But when you have a number of first responders trying to get to the scene, not knowing what they’re going to find necessarily once they get there, I’m not willing to be overly critical of what appears to be an innocent mistake.”

Select Board member Gardner Trask III said he’ll hear more about the incident from the town manager and police chief “when the time is appropriate.”

“I respect the fact that they need time to do a thorough and accurate investigation, and I’m willing to give them that time,” Trask said.

Daniel Bennett, chairman of the Select Board, agreed.

“It was certainly an accident. It’s unfortunate, and I’m sure we’ll take a look at what happened and why it happened and try to prevent that from happening again,” Bennett said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to make that response again, but you never know.”

Select Board member David Mills attended St. John’s Prep from 1956 to 1960, and called his time at the school the happiest of his life.

He was walking his dog in Gloucester when he found out about the incident Monday.

“I was so happy because it was false, but so infuriated because there’s all kinds of people who are still running rampant over our democracy and expressing hatred and rage in this kind of terribly distant kind of way,” said Mills, referring to the hoax call.

“I’m just hoping that there is some way of identifying this perpetrator,” he added.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.

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