MANCHESTER, N.H. — A 21-year-old man brought an authentic-looking pellet gun into a school Thursday, triggering a two-hour lockdown and a dramatic response by three teams of heavily armed SWAT police.
Damien Johnson, 21, was taken into custody without incident, about an hour after West High School went into lockdown. He was taken into custody while he was inside a classroom with students and staff, police said.
Johnson was originally thought to be a former student at the school, but Manchester Police Chief David Mara told reporters Thursday that Johnson was not associated with the school.
“There was no overt threat to anyone, and he was taken into custody without incident,” said Mara.
According to Mara, a student saw Johnson in the cafeteria with a gun and notified the student resource officer, who notified school administrators.
Mara said the suspect had the pellet gun, pellets, and a knife with him, inside a duffle bag.
“This is what we train for,” said Mara, in light of recent data that mass shootings are up.
One parent, Gerrylynn Emery, said she rushed to the school after hearing from one of her two 14-year-old twin daughters, Britney and Brianna, about the lockdown and the man with the gun through a text message.
While Brianna was texting with her mother about what was happening inside the school, Britney’s phone was in her backpack, and neither her mom nor her sister could reach her, the Emerys said.
“It was scary,’’ Brianna Emery said. “I was wondering if my sister was OK, and where she was.’’
GerryLynn Emery said she told her daughter Brianna, to stay away from doors, and if she saw the gunman, to “stay down and play dead.”
The school went into lockdown after Johnson was allegedly seen by a student in the building, New Hampshire officials and the city’s police department have reported on their official Twitter accounts.
“Suspect is in custody with no shots fired; weapon has been located,’’ the state’s emergency management agency reported around 9:30 a.m. today.
The lockdown began around 7:30 a.m. and ended at 9:40 a.m., Manchester officials said in post-incident statements released to the press.
West High Principal Christopher Motika said staff members are usually stationed in the front of the school in the morning, both outside and inside, as well as other school staff members in the cafeteria. The student resource officer is typically either in the halls, in the cafeteria with students, or in his office preparing for the school day to begin before the first class bell rings, Motika said.
“The process did work,’’ Motika said. “The person was identified and we were able to use our emergency response protocol to ensure the safety of students.’’
Law enforcement officials said they did not know what prompted Johnson to enter the school. Manchester police said Johnson has been arrested by the department several times in recent year, including an arrest this year for felony receiving stolen property, burglary and prowling.
Johnson is scheduled to be arraigned in a Manchester courtroom Friday on multiple charges including falsifying physical evidence, probation violation and disturbing school in session, police said.