July 23, 2019
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Newport, Pittsfield school districts on alert after Walmart caller says he needs assault rifle ‘for school tomorrow’

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Newport Police Chief Leonard Macdaid

NEWPORT, Maine — Newport and Pittsfield schools were placed on alert Friday after a young male called a local Walmart on Thursday, asked if the store sold assault rifles and reportedly said, “I need it for school tomorrow,” according to Newport police.

Newport police Chief Leonard Macdaid said security at Walmart in Palmyra called him on Thursday afternoon to report the call made to the store.

“He asked if they had assault rifles there,” Macdaid said on Friday morning. “When the lady told him, ‘I’m not sure, I’ll transfer you to sporting goods,’ the young male said, ‘I need it for school tomorrow.’”

Macdaid said the young male hung up before the transfer was complete and no caller ID was available.

“We have no idea where the call came from,” said Macdaid. “We’re erring on the side of caution and have put out a statewide police bulletin.”

Maine State Police and Pittsfield police were also made aware of the indirect threat, said Macdaid.

The woman at Walmart said the young male who called “wasn’t irate or threatening. He was talking calmly,” said Macdaid.

All eight of RSU 19’s schools began operating their “shelter in place” procedures, Superintendent Greg Potter said Friday. The schools are controlling access to buildings and are restricting outdoor activities. The procedures may continue into next week, he said.

“We’re taking a little more of a precaution and we’ve stepped up police presence around the school,” said Potter, adding that a letter would be sent home with students on Friday informing parents of the situation.

“We have people monitoring the schools at this point. I think the district did a great job,” Macdaid said.

SAD 53 Superintendent Dominic DePatsy said Friday he already had alerted parents to the Walmart incident.

There are already mechanisms in place on the doors of SAD 53 schools which require people to be buzzed in. Pittsfield police have stepped up patrols at schools for Friday, he said.

“I talked to our [schools] and we all decided that we will let the parents know what happened,” said DePatsy. “There was no direct threat, but we felt we should let parents know the situation.”

DePatsy said parents were given the option to keep their children home on Friday. Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield reported a 20 percent absence rate on Friday, he said.

“The kids are safe. We just don’t want people to overreact,” said DePatsy. “Things are fine. It’s a regular school day.”

Bomb threats at Walmart stores were reported in three towns in parts of the state on Friday afternoon. It was unclear if they were related to the incident involving the Palmyra store.

Calais Police Chief David Randle confirmed the store in that town received a threat, and Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said threats also were reported in Thomaston and Palmyra.

Randle said police in Calais investigated, and the store was expected to reopen late Friday afternoon.

Calais police, Calais firefighters and the U.S. Border Patrol all responded to that report, but Randle did not disclose any specifics on what, if anything, was found.

McCausland confirmed the threats in Palmyra and Thomaston but information on those incidents wasn’t immediately available.

Calls to Thomaston police weren’t immediately returned.

BDN writer Ryan McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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