September 09. 2018 12:05AM

Tough call on Central High standoff has Queen City talking

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader


Carrie Kawaya and his wife Ghislaine, center, wait for their daughter Manuela, a senior, during a standoff as Central High students are picked up at Hillside Middle School in Manchester on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Police and school officials made a dramatic call late Friday afternoon, with a shooter on the loose who last was seen entering an apartment building just blocks away from Central High School.

They decided to put the 1,200-student school into lockdown until nearly five hours after regular closing.

Then they carried out an elaborate evacuation of all of the students to nearby Hillside Middle School, where they could be released to their parents.

The entire operation didn’t conclude until after 10 p.m.

“Yes, I got them around 10 last night, poor babies. They were at school from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” posted Lynn Harris of Manchester on Facebook late Friday night.

Police Chief Carlo Capano said the scene at the corner of Hanover and Maple streets was tense, as the school was in the apartment building’s line of sight.

“We had to take into consideration Central High School down the street and the safety of those students was paramount to us,” Capano said.

“These are difficult decisions I had to make by myself in consultation with school administrators and the mayor’s office. We felt it was the safest option to keep them at the school. I’d absolutely do it again the same way we did.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas said it was a team effort that ensured every student remained out of harm’s way.

“It took the collective efforts on the part of everyone to make sure our students were safe throughout this unfortunate 12-hour situation. Again thanks to everyone involved,” Vargas said.

“The students, staff, faculty and police officers assigned to Manchester Central High School were instrumental in making this arduous task a successful endeavor.”

Mayor Joyce Craig was trying to balance conflicting roles as the city’s chief administrator and also the mother of Kathryn, a freshman at Central High School.

“It was obviously a very stressful day for everyone involved,” Craig said. “As a parent, I was confident that my daughter and the students were safe.”

Craig praised police for sending extra school resource officers over to Central to help keep students calm.

“There was good coordination between the Manchester police and school departments and the MTA really stepped up getting all those buses in such short notice,” Craig said.

“I was at Hillside and it was great. There were a number of principals and teachers there on their own helping everyone on their own time so many hours after the regular school day had ended. It was great to see the community come together at a time of crisis.”

School board member Rich Girard said his telephone “blew up” with angry parents who said they went hours without getting any update.

“The anger and upset from a lot of parents was justified,” Girard said.

He believed students could have been safely evacuated out of the building in the north and western corners away from the Maple-Hanover Street search scene and he couldn’t understand why students were locked in the building while parents and the public were allowed to park and walk around right next to the school.

“The sticking point for me was if the kids weren’t safe on the street why were they allowing unfettered access to the school and you had parents sitting out in their cars waiting for kids that weren’t coming out?” Girard said. “That’s very frustrating.”

He questioned if there was an emergency response plan that contemplated moving 1,200 students at once to another secure site.

“This is the third massive police response and lockdown that we have seen in the past three or four years. There was one at West High School some time back and then one of an entire part of the West Side,” Girard said. “At some point we have to ask, ‘Is the police response in these matters more extreme than it has to be?’”

Lis Hood of Manchester has boys who are a freshman and a junior at Central.

“They were both on the same floor in the same building a couple doors apart. When one of my boys went to the bathroom he could hear his brother’s voice nearby and that was comforting to him,” Hood said.

“I think it was more stressful for the parents than it was for the students.”

She echoed what several complained about on social media that the school department didn’t send out emails for four hours from around school closing time.

“There was no communication from 2 p.m. to after 6 p.m. To me that’s a really long gap,” said Hood who has worked for 20 years in the school district and is currently a mathematics “coach” at McDonough Elementary School.

Craig said she received those complaints as well.

“There are some lessons learned through an event like this. Even if there is no information to report, just a message to tell the parents we know you are concerned, your kids are safe and we’re working to get them home to you can help relieve some of the stress,” Craig said.

On social media, a lively debate went late into the night Friday as most praised the police and school response while some thought it was over the top and too slow.

Greg Wainwright posted the teachers deserve credit for working until nearly midnight, and many of them eight hours after they were off the clock, without pay.

“Can I just point out how quickly the teachers have abandoned their ‘work bell to bell’ stance in order to keep our kids safe and secure.” Wainwright said. “They continue to work without a contract and are currently 4 hrs. past that last bell. Kudos. Thank you for putting the kids first. I hope you get a contract soon.”

Wendy Simmons Dampier concurred with Girard that traffic near the Hillside drop off site was at times in gridlock.

“Police need to help direct traffic and pedestrians at Bridge and Belmont right now. It’s a mess. I call MPD 20 minutes ago and still nobody to assist,” she posted. “(I’m) Concerned about the parents trying to walk across Bridge St.

Amanda Lewis hoped everyone learned from the experience.

“While I appreciate the efforts of the Manchester school district and the MPD this was a complete cluster,” Lewis posted. “I believe the kids could have been released in a more organized fashion and earlier in the evening. This incident shows me that contingency planning is needed. Thank you for doing your best to keep our kids safe but let’s work on this.”

Laurielee Woodlock Roy said that to her, it was 100 percent mission accomplished.

“Thank you CHS staff and MPD officers that were at the school. For my own children, you put them at ease, made them feel safe, and made the best of a bad situation,” she wrote on Facebook. “I’m sure it was a very tough day & I’m grateful for all of you!”

Lis Hood, the Central High mother and district teacher, said there was one silver lining from the entire episode.

“As a teacher, the priority in that first week of school is to get to know your students,” Hood said.

“After a day and a night like this one, I’m sure so many of them, teacher and students alike, have now made a bond they can take the whole year through with them.”

Reporter Todd Feathers
 contributed to this report.