A Danvers police officer accidentally fired a gun inside a building at St. John’s Preparatory School on Monday while responding to a report of an armed person inside the school that was later deemed a hoax, officials said.
Police in Danvers alerted State Police and area departments at 1:49 p.m. that they were responding to a report of a person with a gun inside the school, according to State Police.
During an initial search of the campus, a Danvers police officer fired a gun inside a bathroom in a middle school building, Danvers police Chief James Lovell said in a news conference outside the school. No one else was inside the bathroom and no injuries were reported, he said.
The “accidental discharge” by the officer led to an increased police presence at the school, Lovell said.
“Typically we would have probably just kept our patrol force investigating initially, but when we had that report, we didn’t know where it happened at originally or how it occurred, so we had a larger response,” he told reporters, according to video from WCVB-TV.
In a message posted to the school’s website Monday afternoon, officials said they “believe that St. John’s was the victim of a Swatting call.”
“Swatting” is a term used to describe a hoax call made to 911 with the intent of drawing a heavy police response to a targeted location, according to the FBI. Callers often make false claims about violent crimes, such as a shooting, and schools have increasingly been targeted. Several Massachusetts schools were subjected to similar hoaxes in February and March, and a swatting incident at a Harvard University dorm in April left a group of students shaken after they were led out of their rooms by police at gunpoint.
Lovell said police are working to identify the person who initially reported the threat at the school.
Police in Boston also responded to a report of a shooter at a Catholic school, Boston College High School, on Monday but determined there was no threat. A spokesperson for BC High said the school was holding a faculty and staff retreat, and no students were on campus. The incident is under investigation, police said.
Students and staff at St. John’s went into lockdown, with some students fleeing the campus and running into the woods nearby, officials said.
Head of School Ed Hardiman said students were being reunited with their families and officials were working to locate students who had fled.
Lovell said the initial report was for an armed person “threatening to cause harm located in the men’s room” of Brother Benjamin Hall, which houses St. John’s middle school classrooms. Officers responded and searched the bathroom, where one officer fired a gun, he said.
It was unclear whether the officer could face discipline for the accident. Lovell said that is part of the investigation.
“We have investigators on scene who will conduct an investigation on that and it will be handled appropriately,” he said.
As police cleared the campus buildings, students gathered under a white tent that had been set up for the school’s graduation ceremony last weekend.
“My message to our students underneath the tent was some of us are going to be OK, [and] some of us are going to be really traumatized by what’s happened, and it’s our responsibility to reach out to each other to support each other and to care for each other,” Hardiman said.