METHUEN — A man with spiky frosted hair and a camouflage visor ran down the hallways of Timony Grammar School yesterday morning, yelling for his son at the top of his lungs.
The man was a Methuen policeman, Detective Ron Valliere, playing the role of a highly aggravated parent who said he had a gun and wanted his son immediately. It was all part of a coordinated lockdown drill, an exercise designed to test the training of police, special operations teams and the school administrators, teachers and students.
Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon and schools Superintendent Judith Scannell worked together on the exercise. "I think it went very well," Solomon said after Valliere was led out of the school in handcuffs.
Administrators and teachers at Timony were not notified in advance. Scannell and Solomon told principal Timothy Miller about the drill when they arrived just before 10 a.m. yesterday. Immediately after Miller was informed, Valliere ran down the hall, yelling, "I want my son! I want my son!"
Teachers immediately shut and locked their classroom doors and shepherded their students into predetermined waiting locations, such as interior rooms, as Miller announced the lock down drill over the intercom. Students in the library were led into a storage room. Teachers in the occupied rooms slid green cards with their room numbers under the doors into the hall, indicating there was not an issue in that room.
Scannell and Solomon said red cards indicate a problem, and a separate card indicated an injured student. Similar cards are put on the exterior windows to communicate what is going on in the room to rescuers outside the building.
No card outside a door would mean that room must be searched and cleared.
"The parent" wound up in the auditorium, where he told several students there to leave and hid behind a screen on the stage. The students, who were helping another teacher with Revolutionary War props and did not hear the drill announcement, complied and filed into a hall, where physical education teacher Brian Angelari spotted them and led them into a downstairs room.
Solomon said yesterday he received a phone call from a parent who wanted notification before drills so she could keep her child out of school that day. "But that defeats the purpose. They would be the child who wouldn't know what to do when everyone else does," he said.
In the past, notices were sent home with students a week or two in advance, but Solomon said the better test for an emergency is a drill with little prior notification. "The way to test people is to not let them know," he said.
Methuen police, whose guns had been cleared of ammunition and secured with zip ties run through the chambers and barrels, took up positions at several doorways into the auditorium, while others monitored the entrances and the parking lot. Police outside the auditorium and the "parent" inside shouted back and forth, an effort used to keep the aggressive person communicating. Patrolman Dave Mambro, the officer assigned to Timony, helped guide other officers through connecting hallways between the auditorium and the gymnasium.
Soon after, a special operations team in full gear — but with fake blue rifles — filed into the Timony and positioned themselves around the entrances to the auditorium, barrels trained on the stage. Police talked "the parent" out from behind the screen, and eventually into allowing two officers to reach him and secure him in handcuffs.
The whole drill took about an hour. The on-duty officers and special operations team took a little longer than they would in an actual emergency because everyone secured their live weapons before entering the school.
"They did really good," Angelari said of the students he found in the hallway. "One girl teared up, but I told her, 'It's okay. The police are on it.'"
The girl said after the drill that her friend helped keep her calm. Cam Boes, 11, in the fifth grade, said they did not know that the whole thing was an exercise until Miller announced that it was over.
Scannell said teachers and administrators "followed protocol to a T. You could hear a pin drop in the building, it was so quiet."
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