By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — This morning, police officers rode on school buses and followed behind in cruisers to protect students on their way to school, after someone shot BBs at two school buses yesterday.
The shots shattering windows and sprayed glass onto young children and teens.
Police said students on the two buses could have been shot in the eye or side of the head and seriously injured.
At a press conference last night, police said they believe the BBs were fired by the same person, possibly in a vehicle that drove past the buses. Police said video footage obtained by one of the school buses may provide a description of the shooter.
“This makes people very unsettled and rightfully so in light of last Friday’s horrific tragedy in Connecticut,” said Superintendent James Scully, referring to the shootings that killed 20 young children at a school in Newtown, Conn. “Although these random acts are very difficult to prevent, we want people to know that children have our full attention and we will keep everyone as safe as we possibly can.”
Yesterday’s incidents came less than a week after the massacre at Newtown. Authorities said that on Friday of last week, 20-year-old Adam Lanza gunned down 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza, formerly of Kingston, then shot and killed himself, police said.
“If this was some sort of prank, it’s certainly a sick joke, a sick prank in light of what’s happened,” Haverhill police Lt. Robert Pistone said of yesterday’s BB shootings. “These children could have been seriously injured had they been hit in the eye or in the side of the head. Luckily, on both of these occasions, the shot went above the children’s head. However, on both of these occasions there were children sitting in seats where the window was shattered and they did have glass that did fall on top of them.”
Scully sent an automated phone message to about 10,000 parents after the shootings to advise them about the incidents and tell them the children were safe.
The first incident happened on a Head Start bus yesterday morning about 11:30 a.m. in the area of Main and Marshland streets. Pistone said there were 3- and 4-year-olds on the bus. After the first incident was reported, police stepped up their patrols of school bus routes and were “actively looking” for a suspect, Pistone said.
The second incident happened about 2:30 p.m. at Winter and Hale streets. School officials said in that incident the bus, which students pay $1 a day to ride, was bringing students home from Haverhill High School and was traveling up Winter Street when it was struck by a BB. One student received a minor injury when brushing off pieces of glass that fell onto her and she sustained a small cut on her knuckle, police said.
Pistone said that in each case, the windows that were shot at were on the driver’s side of the buses and hit windows next to children. Pistone said a BB was found on the bus carrying the high school students. Pistone said those responsible will be charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. Haverhill police detectives John Moses and Carl Rogers are investigating both incidents. No arrests had been made as of last night, police said. Police ask that anyone with information on the shootings call the police station at 978-373-1212.
Following the first incident yesterday morning, police increased patrols of bus routes and had officers riding on buses. Pistone said extra patrols of bus routes will be in place today, along with officers riding on school buses.
John Cuneo, director of Community Action Inc., which runs the Head Start program in Haverhill, said about 35 children ages 3 and 4 were riding the Coppola company bus involved in the morning shooting. Cuneo said there were four or five children seated close to the window that was shot.
Deborah Linett, associate director of Head Start in Haverhill, sent a letter home to parents yesterday telling them that after the bus was hit by a BB, police responded and escorted the bus to the Fox Center on Elm Street. She told parents that all of the children were checked for particles of glass and that those who were sitting closest to the window that was hit by a BB were checked more extensively by the program’s transportation coordinator, bus monitor and health service manager.
“The timing of this event is particularly awful given the horrific events in Newtown, CT,” Linett said. “Thankfully, our children are fine, however, our nerves are jangled.”