By Robert Mills
WESTFORD — The boy was met at the door by the smiling face of a freshman girl, working, as part of her studies, as a hostess for the restaurant and other student-run businesses at Nashoba Valley Technical High School.
The girl greeted the boy, asked where he was going, and received no answer. The boy silently walked down a hallway with an object that put the girl on edge.
“She didn’t know if it was a gun or a long pole, but she didn’t like the way he looked,” said Superintendent Judith Klimkiewicz.
The next four minutes would see police speeding toward the school, administrators scrambling, and dozens of students watching as their assistant principal faced off with what appeared to be a teen boy with a gun.
When the boy headed down the hall, the girl at the door immediately told an upperclassman and culinary instructor Steve Whiting.
Whiting notified Principal Denise Pigeon and Klimkiewicz, who was having lunch with Jim Campanini, editor of The Sun, and George Ramirez, executive vice president of MassDevelopment in the school’s restaurant, run by culinary arts students. Campanini and Ramirez were at the school to film Nashoba Talks, a monthly show prepared with help from students in the TV and Media Production program.
Klimkiewicz stood, told her guests she had to attend to something, and, still poised, walked away. Guests in the restaurant continued to eat lunch, unalarmed.
Westford police got a 911 call from the school at 11:48 a.m. yesterday, according to Capt. Walter Shea. Officers were told an “unwanted person” was inside the school. Moments later, as they were en route, officers were told that person was possibly armed.
The boy, carrying a pellet gun that closely resembled an assault rifle, had by then covered most of the roughly 90 feet of hallway leading to the school’s cafeteria, where about 150 students were eating.
“Ms. Pigeon came yelling to me that we had a situation,” said Assistant Principal Matthew Ricard. “She had already cleared the serving-line area out and said a young man was coming down the hallway.”
Pigeon ran to an office to place the school in lockdown and monitor video surveillance to be sure no one else was inside building.
“Every teacher who saw kids in the corridor just ushered them into a room and locked the door,” Klimkiewicz said.
Ricard saw the young man approaching the cafeteria, which was still not fully evacuated.
“I closed the café doors and tried not to let him into the café, but he did make his way in,” Ricard said. “I saw that he had a weapon in his hands.”
The young man pointed a gun in Ricard’s direction.
Ricard was later asked what went through his head.
“Keep the kids safe. Just keep the kids safe. Do your job. Keep the kids safe,” Ricard said he was thinking.
The boy soon lowered the gun, and Ricard pinned the boy and the gun against a wall as four other teachers ran to help.
“He struggled,” Ricard said. “He didn’t say a word.”
There were still some students left in the cafeteria.
“They were frightened,” Klimkiewicz said.
Matthew Kamfonik and Mike Robichaud, teachers in the auto-body program, ran from a nearby teacher’s lounge to help, as did academic teachers Rob Beaudette and James Creed, who were working as lunch monitors.
Together with Ricard they pried the gun from the hands of the boy, and Ricard pinned the boy to the ground using an “arm bar” technique teachers are taught during annual restraint training.
Not even four minutes had passed.
“It all happened almost at once,” Klimkiewicz said.
Westford police were inside the school at 11:52 p.m., four minutes after they had been called.
They took the boy into custody without further incident. They determined the rifle was a pellet gun.
“When you look at this weapon it looks like an assault-type weapon,” said Westford Police Chief Thomas McEnaney. “It doesn’t look like a toy.”
Police soon identified the boy as a 16-year-old sophomore at the school who had been suspended last week due to what was described as an “unrelated” issue that did not involve weapons. The boy has been at the school for about a year.
Klimkiewicz and police declined to elaborate on the reason for the boy’s suspension, or to identify him in any other way since he is a juvenile facing criminal charges.
Police declined to speculate on his motive or what he may have been trying to do.
“He is not known to us,” McEnaney said when asked if the boy had a criminal record.
The boy was being held in an undisclosed juvenile detention facility last night. He will be arraigned today in Lowell Juvenile Court on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, carrying a dangerous weapon on school property, illegal possession of a BB gun, and disrupting a school assembly, McEnaney said.
Police searched the school to ensure there were no other threats, lifted the lockdown and sent students home on buses that were already waiting outside. Police searched the school a second time after students had been released.
Today, Klimkiewicz said, counselors will be available for students, staff and parents who have questions or concerns.
Klimkiewicz said she wishes the incident did not occur, but praised her staff and the freshman hostess for the speed with which they reacted. She said the student’s fast action kept the boy from moving further through the school.
“I think that says something about the maturity level of that young girl,” Klimkiewicz said.
McEnaney too praised the school staff, and Ricard in particular.
“He put himself in front of this individual who was carrying a weapon, and between him and the students,” McEnaney said. “He took matters into his own hands and actually disarmed this individual. For that I am very grateful.”
“I acted the way I was trained to act,” Ricard said.
Staff writer Sarah Favot contributed to this report.