January 23, 2020
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‘You never think it can happen to your school’: Inside Bangor High’s 2-hour lockdown

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Bangor High School students wait for siblings and friends to be released from Bangor High School on Wednesday morning following a lockdown. They said that the school was already locked down when they arrived so they were waiting and texting friends inside.

Marie Tessier thought a Wednesday morning meeting with her daughter’s teacher at Bangor High School would only run for a few minutes, so she left her dog Molly in her car. But Tessier ended up spending two hours in the building, sitting in complete silence on the floor of a chemistry lab as her daughter and other juniors hid behind lab benches after a social media threat prompted a school lockdown.

“People said they were sorry that I had to experience that,” she said. “But frankly, that’s where a parent would want to be.”

About 15 minutes before the school’s 7:55 a.m. start time, staff instructed all students to head to their first classes of the day, Tessier said. She said the teacher she was meeting with told her there may be a lockdown, which is why Tessier accompanied her 17-year-old daughter, Simone Grossweiler, to her classroom.

In those initial moments of confusion, Tessier saw some students in the hallway with their coats on, lunchboxes in hand, unsure of what was happening.

She overheard a girl ask a teacher if their lives were in danger. It was just one example of the confusion that reigned during a morning that students throughout Bangor spent in lockdown mode, wondering about what violence could unfold before them.

As Tessier witnessed the confusion inside Bangor High School, Cintia Miranda received a text from her daughter, a freshman whom she had dropped off around 7:15 a.m.

“Bomb and shooting threat. I’m in lockdown. I’m scared,” the text read.

[13-year-old arrested after social media threat sends Bangor schools into lockdown]

Her daughter told her that students were told to hide behind a curtain in the gymnasium. She could see coaches and other teachers hurriedly trying to get all students to their designated first-period classes.

Miranda — who is the agency director and founder of Pulse Marketing Agency, a subsidiary of Bangor Publishing Co. — returned to the high school, and pulled up behind a lone police car. As she was asking the police officer about the situation inside, she saw multiple Maine State Police cruisers pull up behind her. Officers with protective vests and guns ran inside the administration entrance to the high school. At the other entrance, Miranda saw school buses continue to drop off students, who entered the high school.

“Why were the kids allowed to go in while cops with guns were going in at the same time?” she said. “It didn’t make any sense to me.”

Miranda and her husband stood outside the school while their daughter texted them updates. She was sitting in a circle with classmates behind the curtain in the gym, still unclear about the reasons for the lockdown. Miranda texted her to let her know she was safe.

“I’m glad that it seems like I’m safe but something’s still going on,” her daughter responded. “The adults are scared, I am too.”

Meanwhile, Tessier and her daughter heard a schoolwide announcement over the intercom informing students that the school was officially in lockdown. She said she saw students and teachers act calmly and quickly.

Tessier said everyone in her daughter’s chemistry lab took shelter behind the lab benches and moved away from the windows. Someone drew the shades, and the students fell completely silent.

If someone had looked in through the door of the classroom, no one would have been visible, Tessier said.

“It was amazing that they were all completely prepared, not freaking out, and totally cooperative,” Tessier said.

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Bangor police officer E. Lund and assistant principal Timothy Reed speak to parents in the student parking lot at Bangor High School regarding student pick up following a school lock down on Wednesday.

She spotted a crevice between two lab benches, and texted her daughter to tell her she could fit into that space in case of any danger. Even though they were in the same room, she texted to keep the silence.

“To look into your child’s eyes and know that you’re giving them direction to save their lives in the event of an active shooter, that is just sick,” she said.

Tessier was not just worried for her and her daughter’s safety. She had left Molly in the car and started to get increasingly nervous about the dog suffering a heat stroke. She passed a note to the teacher, and after the teacher secured permission for Tessier to leave, she was escorted out of the building.

Her daughter gave her a fist bump on her way out of the classroom.

“As I walked out, there were teachers posted in the hallways throughout the school, presumably keeping an eye on who was coming and going,” she said.

[Bangor parents say school’s emergency messages added to lockdown confusion]

Tessier drove away just before 10 a.m., and she passed Assistant Principal Timothy Reed briefing some high school students who had been waiting in the parking lot since 7:30 a.m.

Among those students was Sofia Wittmann, 17, who had arrived at school after track practice that morning to find the school in lockdown.

“We’ve been in the parking lot since 7:40 a.m.,” she said just before 10 a.m. “The security guard told us to go inside, so they could know where all the students were. Some of us said absolutely not.”

She could not leave, even if she didn’t want to go into the school. Her 14-year-old sister was inside.

“You think it can happen to other schools but you never think it can happen to your school,” she said.

Soon after Reed briefed students and some parents waiting outside the high school, parents received a phone call with a recorded message from Superintendent Betsy Webb informing them that the lockdown was over. Students then started coming out of the building.

Miranda and her husband saw their daughter come out of the school crying at about 10:20 a.m. She showed her parents a video of students crowding the hallways, rushing to leave the school building.

Miranda drove her daughter home and returned to work, feeling unhappy about how administrators handled the events of the day.

“I don’t want this to become the new normal,” she said. “The kids shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

Tessier said she was glad the school had a procedure ready for a situation like this.

“What is really terrifying about this situation is that it’s totally possible that a murderous madman can come in and slaughter all these perfect children,” Tessier said. “Some jackass can say something on Facebook and immediately 1,200 kids are afraid for their lives. It’s insane.”

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Bangor High School’s start time.


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