PELHAM — A tense two-hour lockdown and a search for a gun at Pelham High School ended yesterday afternoon with police recovering a toy gun and arresting two students.

The regional SWAT team was on standby and numerous police officers surrounded the school as authorities searched the building, looking for the silver handgun a student said was on the hallway floor.

At 1:17 p.m., police officers escorted two boys, 15 and 16, out of the school's main entrance. The students were handcuffed and walked with their heads down and did not resist when officers put them in the back seat of a police cruiser.

The two students were arrested on charges of causing a false public alarm and disorderly conduct. But other students may have been involved in what is being investigated as a possible prank, Pelham police Lt. Gary Fisher said.

Police were obtaining a warrant from Salem District Court to search students and their personal belongings when they found the toy gun inside a student's locker, a search that did not require a warrant.

Classes resumed about 1:15 p.m. — more than two hours after the student told school authorities he saw the gun on the floor. When a school official went with the student to find the gun, it had vanished.

The student had told police officers the gun was real, Fisher said.

"His story was very credible," he said, prompting the search and lockdown about 11:15 a.m.

School Superintendent Frank Bass would not say if the students involved include the one who reported seeing the silver gun.

"I can't comment," he said. "There is an ongoing investigation."

In case the gun turned out to be real, the Southern New Hampshire Regional Special Operations Unit responded with a armored vehicle and waited on standby in front of the Pelham police station. A Derry police mobile unit pulled up in front of the high school at 12:28 p.m. Windham and New Hampshire State Police covered the Pelham police station during the incident.

None of the students interviewed by The Eagle-Tribune admitted to feeling anxious during the lockdown, but some parents drove to the school after their children sent them text messages. Police officers blocked the driveway entrance at 12:18 p.m. and told parents the lockdown was a precaution. All students were safe, police said.

"I knew it was no big deal," Moria Neary, 16, a Pelham High sophomore said. "I happened to be walking down the corridor when the police first arrived." Neary said she saw only two officers and figured there would have been more if there were real danger.

Bass said the school remained in a lockdown until police could determine if the gun was real.

Several students told police they also had seen a handgun, Fisher said. But other students told police the gun was a toy with an orange cap and was part of a prank.

It turned out to be a cowboy-style toy gun with an ivory-colored handle, silver muzzle and orange plastic cap, Fisher said.

Police became convinced the gun was a toy when they began receiving conflicting reports from students.

Police and school officials used the public address system to appeal to students for information. That finally resulted in a tip, leading police to the locker where the toy gun was stashed.

The student who had the cap gun did come forward, Bass said.

No decision has been yet made on disciplining the students, the superintendent said.

"We have broad discretionary powers," he said, noting suspension or expulsion would not be automatic and that the school is taking the matter seriously.

Police arrested the student who allegedly brought the toy gun to school. The second boy arrested reportedly hid the cap gun in his locker.

Both were released to their parents. The students' names are not being released because they are juveniles. Their cases will be handled in family court, Fisher said.


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