MCPS schools receive threats, increase security in response

Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

By Rebecca Hirsh

Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida Feb. 14, multiple incidents have occurred in MCPS, including three bomb threats and a student found in possession of a handgun at school. In response, Whitman held two drills Feb. 21 and has prepared presentations on safety guidelines.

Last Thursday, Feb. 15, senior Alwin Chen from Clarksburg High School brought a loaded gun and knife to school. Before Chen made any attempt to harm students or faculty, security removed him from the premises, and he was arrested around 2 p.m. He is being held without bond.

Police searched Chen’s home and found a cache of weapons, including two rifles, a shotgun, a ballistic vest, inert grenades, two handguns and a replica electrical firing device and ammunition, Fox 5 reported. Chen’s explanation changed from target practice after school to feeling unsafe and wanting protection in school.

Chen also had composed a list of grievances against students in the school, county prosecutors said. This is not the first time Chen has brought a concealed weapon to school in order to protect himself and peers from a possible mass shooter, new court documents state.

Many Clarksburg students were unaware of the threat until an email from the principal was sent out that night. A student saw the gun in Chen’s backpack in class and quickly notified the teacher, who then called security, a freshman said.

“It’s a scary thing because you never imagine that it will be your school where it happens,” the student said. “There needs to be more action taken to prevent things like this from ever happening again. Our principal handled the situation very well and has asked the students that if we ever see something, we should say something.”

Wednesday morning, Feb. 21, both Winston Churchill and Walter Johnson high schools received bomb threats. At Churchill, the call came in around 7:15 a.m., and students waited outside on the football field for about an hour before being allowed into the building. At WJ, students were evacuated after receiving a bomb threat at 10:52 a.m., according to Montgomery County Police. In both instances, the county responded with bomb-sniffing dogs and concluded neither campus contained a bomb, principal Alan Goodwin said.

On Thursday, March 1, Albert Einstein High School also received a bomb threat. The school went into lockdown and dismissal was delayed while police swept the campus for an explosive. After police failed to locate the threat, students were dismissed at 3:35 p.m., a tweet from the MCPS account read.

County-wide, high schools have been the recipients of at least six threats since the Parkland school shooting Feb. 14, local newspaper the Sentinel reported. Police determined the other social media threats to not be credible.

In response to these threats, Whitman has increased security regulations. Students are no longer allowed outside between classes, which is most problematic for students who walk behind the school to get from Whittier Woods to the portables.

“I’m anxious, as is everybody, that these are potentially very unsafe times,” Goodwin said. “I’m hoping that people that have violent tendencies get the medical help they need. We as a community, though, need to be watchful and be smart about the way we position ourselves.”

Whitman also had a shelter in place drill that led into a lockdown drill Wednesday Feb. 21. There will be a similar drill in March, Goodwin said.

Superintendent Jack Smith sent out a safety message via email Thursday Feb. 22.

“We know that these incidents have created anxiety and fear around school safety for our students, families and staff across the county,” Smith wrote. “MCPS remains committed to ensuring students are safe in our schools. During this challenging time, I believe the kind and encouraging words from teachers, support staff and administrators make a positive difference. Education is our purpose; safety will always be our first priority.”