GHS student to appear in court after fears prompt lockdown

Chief of Police James Heavey briefed the media along with, from left, Selectman Drew Marzullo, First Selectman Peter Tesei, Superintendent of Schools William McKersie and Selectman David Theis. — John Ferris Robben photo

Chief of Police James Heavey briefed the media along with, from left, Selectman Drew Marzullo, First Selectman Peter Tesei, Superintendent of Schools William McKersie and Selectman David Theis.
— John Ferris Robben photo

The Greenwich High School student accused of triggering a lockdown after claiming he had brought a gun to school last week is due in court tomorrow, April 19.

Gianfranco Romero, 19, of 168 Water Street has been charged with one count of breach of peace after the incident, which took place last Thursday morning, April 11. Police allege that Mr. Romero made claims to other students that he possessed a firearm in his bag and that he intended to go to another state and shoot people. This caused alarm in the other students, who then called the police. Per security and safety protocols, the school was then put into lockdown and police responded to the scene.

The call to police came at approximately 10:43 a.m. on Thursday from another student who claimed someone was walking into the school with a gun. Police, including School Resource Officer Carlos Franco, responded and Mr. Romero was “quickly located and detained at gunpoint” according to GPD Public Information Officer Lt. Kraig Gray. Lt. Gray said Mr. Romero was “extremely cooperative” and that he was immediately searched and found not to have a weapon in his backpack as he claimed.

In fact, no weapons were found in Mr. Romero’s possession or in his home, which was searched with the permission of his mother. No further information has been released about what Mr. Romero might have told police at the scene about the alleged claims he had a gun.

After the lockdown was lifted, GHS returned to a normal schedule with dismissal happening at the typical time. There were no injuries suffered and parents were informed that their children were safe. Initially parents came to the school looking for their children, but that created a heavy traffic condition that lessened once parents were told that all was well.

“We are thankful that no one was injured,” First Selectman Peter Tesei said. “There was an immediate and rapid response on the part of the faculty, the school district, the Greenwich Police Department, and most notably the school resource officer, Carlos Franco.”

Superintendent of Schools William McKersie said the decision was made to return the school back to its regular schedule quickly to prevent any additional upheaval for the students.

“It’s very important in all of this to get back to normal as fast as possible, and the high school has gone back to normal very fast,” Dr. McKersie said last week, adding that the GHS student government even met as planned the afternoon of the incident.”

News of the incident came as the Board of Selectmen was in the middle of a meeting, causing Mr. Tesei to take the unusual step of adjourning it in the middle of a discussion so that he could be briefed on the situation. Mr. Tesei, Chief of Police James Heavey and Dr. McKersie all appeared at an afternoon press briefing on the matter and all praised the performance of Officer Franco as well as the district’s security and safety protocols. Mr. Tesei said this was a test the district had passed with “flying colors,” and Dr. McKersie noted the teamwork of Officer Franco and members of the GHS staff.

Chief Heavey said the response was “not difficult” and utilized officers from several divisions with Officer Franco as the primary responder.

“This is something we drill with and train with all the time,” Chief Heavey said before crediting Officer Franco for knowing both the suspect and the reporting party and immediately being able to find them and determine what had happened.

Dr. McKersie added that he was notified “within seconds” of the incident by Chief Heavey and said the response by the police, the town and, especially, Officer Franco was just what the situation demanded. He said there was rapid communication with other schools in the district to make clear this was considered an isolated incident and there was no danger elsewhere. He said that there was quick, good communication with staff to reassure those who have children at GHS and that within 30 minutes there was communication with parents informing them that all children were safe.

“When there’s a gun on campus, potentially, we have to respond fast,” Dr. McKersie said. “We have to have systems in place that respond fast. The police responded fast and the high school administration responded very fast by going into the lockdown almost immediately with 2,800 students put in a very safe place. Then to find the student that reported this that fast and then find several other students who may have been involved that fast in a building of 2,800 students is spectacular. We have a great system in Greenwich. I’ve said it before and this is proof positive.”

Dr. McKersie added, “A lesson going forward for all of us is when you hear as a parent that things are fine, stay home. Do not go to the school because it just frankly gets in the way of what we need to do. Fortunately [on the day of the incident], parents listened. Going forward they need to keep listening, because we have a great team in place.”

Students did have some concerns about the lockdown though. Students who spoke to the Post under the condition of anonymity said that doors that were supposed to lock could not lock, that some people didn’t know where to go and were left hiding in closets and that substitute teachers did not know the lockdown protocol.

In an email to the Post after being informed of the complaints, Kim Eves, the district’s communications director, said she spoke to Dr. McKersie and that he believes the procedures executed by the GHS administration and staff went “exceedingly well” but there “were a few components which can be improved.”

This is something that is expected to be addressed in an after-action report that will be put together by both the district and the Police Department to review what went right with the response and what issues need to be addressed.

The district recently got approval by the Representative Town Meeting to make additional safety improvements that were recommended after a review spurred by the Dec. 14 Newtown shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Those improvements included new locks for doors at the high school, and Ms. Eves said that this and other improvements are intended to address those areas.

No matter what happens in court on Friday, Mr. Romero, under district policy, will not be allowed to return to GHS until a “risk-assessment” can be completed by the district. In addition to his arrest, he is also expected to face disciplinary action from the school.

In a letter sent to parents last Thursday, Dr. McKersie wrote, “Today, we witnessed our safety and security measures in action. I am reassured that we have strong procedures in place and the expertise in our schools and community necessary to respond to threats. I commend the Greenwich High School administration and staff, the Greenwich Police Department, including School Resource Officer (SRO) Franco, and our GHS students for their swift and professional response to a situation that resulted in a lockdown. Thank you for your cooperation and patience with today’s event.”

He added, “While there were no physical injuries today, students and adults have experienced a highly stressful situation. Some at the high school witnessed armed police officers following protocols in responding to the perceived threat. Students will need to process this experience and will be looking to the adults in their lives for guidance. The National Association of School Psychologists advises the following for supporting children after a crisis, ‘Maintain as much continuity and normalcy as possible. Allowing children to deal with their reactions is important but so is providing a sense of normalcy.’ For the most part, just being available to listen to what they experienced and providing reassurance will be helpful. Guidance counselors and mental health staff at the high school are available for anyone that may need additional support. Please contact your guidance counselor or a school administrator if you feel that your child needs to speak with someone about this experience.”

GHS had additional police on hand last Friday to work alongside Officer Franco. Classes are set to resume tomorrow after students in the district had Monday through Thursday off for April break.

 

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