EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 22, 2012

No shooter, but police vow arrests

Students in bus incident say people 'going crazy'

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — For one group of students who rode a school bus to Haverhill High School yesterday morning, it was just another day.

There was little chatter about incidents on Thursday in which two school buses were shot at by BBs, breaking a passenger window of each vehicle. Some heard about the incidents, but appeared unfazed by what happened. Some were in their own world, listening to music through ear buds, while a few tried to get in a quick nap before they reached the high school.

Meanwhile, police in marked and unmarked cruisers quietly patrolled school bus routes across the city, looking to protect children and perhaps even catch a BB gun shooter in the act of pointing a gun at a bus.

“The marked presence was to act as a deterrent as well as hopefully calm any fears that the students or their families may have had,” police Lt. Robert Pistone said of the regular cruisers that traveled with buses. “The unmarked units monitored all bus routes for suspicious vehicles, and were thoroughly distributed enough that if we did have a repeat event, we would have had a unit close enough to respond, and possibly catch whoever is doing this.

“In many cases we also had marked and unmarked cruisers follow the buses on their routes,” Pistone said.

Police did not catch a shooter and there were no other incidents, but they vowed to do all they can to arrest whoever shot the windows, nearly injuring teens and young children.

Police are reviewing a video taken from one of the buses that shows a vehicle driving past it around the time it was shot. They said they hope to develop leads from it and said it is possible the shots came from the vehicle.

Yesterday morning, Sheila Belmer drove the high school bus that was shot Thursday. It was a lighter crowd than expected, as many of the students who were on her bus Thursday either took the day off or found another way to get to school. As Belmer drove to the high school just before 7 a.m., she recounted the brief but frightening incident that happened the day before.

“I was driving up Winter Street and I heard a pop,” she said, noting that police allowed her to only discuss how she responded to the incident. “I looked at my mirror, saw the window, pulled over immediately and called Coppola’s (the bus company) office.”

Haverhill High sophomore Dereck Amoros said he was on Belmer’s bus Thursday.

“It was crazy,” he said. “Everybody started saying it was a BB gun. This kind of thing can happen to anybody now.’’

Freshman Shanice Gaouette said she didn’t ride the bus on Thursday, but she heard about what happened.

“With the shootings in Connecticut, it just sounds like everyone is going crazy,” she said of last week’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 young children and several adults dead.

Freshman Kimberly Morse said she could not understand why anyone would fire BBs at a school bus.

“I think it’s crazy and stupid,” she said.

The shooting of the high school bus happened about 2:30 p.m. Thursday at Winter and Hale streets. School officials said the bus, which students pay $1 a day to ride, was bringing teenagers home from Haverhill High and was traveling on Winter Street when one of its windows was shattered. One student received a minor injury when brushing off pieces of glass that fell onto her. She sustained a small cut to her knuckle, police said. But police stressed that students could have received serious injuries from the shooting.

The earlier incident happened on a Head Start bus about 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the area of Main and Marshland streets. 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. Cuneo said there were four or five children seated close to the window that was shot. When children arrived at the Fox Head Start Center, they were checked for pieces of glass.

Pistone said that in each case, the windows shot were next to children on the driver’s side of the buses. Pistone said a BB was found on the bus carrying the high school students. Those responsible will be charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, police said. Haverhill police detectives John Moses and Carl Rogers are investigating. No arrests were made as of yesterday afternoon, police said. Police ask that anyone with information on the shootings call the police station at 978-373-1212.

As Belmer drove students to Haverhill High yesterday morning, she had some good news for them. As a Christmas present, they didn’t have to pay the usual $1 for a round trip ride. The city has two “pay” buses for students who live within 1 1/2 miles of Haverhill High and normally would have to walk or get their own ride.

Belmer’s first stop was on White Street, where just a few students boarded. At her next and final stop on High Street, more than a dozen students got on board. Most of them were on her bus Thursday, but had gotten off before it headed up Winter Street, where it was shot at.

At a press conference Thursday night, police said they believe the BBs were fired at the buses by the same person, possibly in a vehicle that drove past the buses. Pistone said students on the two buses could have been shot in the eye or side of the head and seriously injured.

“If this was some sort of prank, it’s certainly a sick joke, a sick prank in light of what’s happened,” he said during the press conference.