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Central High School lockdown draws praise and complaints

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 11. 2018 4:28PM
A Manchester officer with a long gun holds a position on the corner of Hanover and Maple streets while a SWAT team looks for murder suspect Paul Dimick on Monday in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — The city’s police chief and superintendent of schools issued a joint letter Monday defending their decision to place Manchester High School Central into lockdown last Friday — keeping students, teachers and other staff at the school until 7:45 p.m. — after a man was shot and killed nearby on Hanover Street.

In the letter, Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas said they are “certain the proper decisions were made” to put Central High School into “secure campus” mode “based on the intelligence gathered and the information received” following a Friday morning shooting in an apartment building at 357 Hanover St. Police say Justin Lee, 32, suffered a gunshot wound to the chest around 11 a.m. Friday and was taken to Elliot Hospital, where he died later that day.

“Our collective efforts to ensure the safety of our children and faculty took precedence above all else,” write Capano and Vargas. “We will always do everything in our power to keep our community safe and greatly appreciate the support from the citizens of the Queen City.”

A murder arrest warrant has been issued for 26-year-old Paul Dimick, whom police accuse of fatally shooting Lee.

Capano said last week Dimick was seen entering a Maple Street building after he had shot Lee. SWAT teams headed to 342 and 445 Maple St. and searched a total of seven apartments with attics and basements.

Some of the windows had a direct line of sight with nearby Manchester High School Central, and Capano said this was why they decided to have all 1,200 students stay in place in the school and only evacuated by bus to Hillside School just before 7:30 p.m. Friday. Capano later said he was certain Dimick had gone into those apartments and somehow at a later point exited and remained at large.

“We knew a majority of the students who walk to and from school live in the neighborhoods south of the high school, which would have placed them in the direct path of the building we believed the suspect had entered,” Capano and Vargas write in the joint letter.

Over the weekend multiple posts on city-centric social media sites criticized police for the duration of the lockdown.

“The safety of the students and faculty was our number one priority, so the secured campus remained in effect until the Manchester Police SWAT team cleared the building, which took several hours,” write Capano and Vargas. “The professionalism of the faculty and the cooperation of the student body epitomize the strength and resolve of our community. Thanks to the Manchester Transit Authority, the coordinated evacuation plan was implemented as soon as we felt the students and faculty were no longer in harm’s way.”

Monday night, Central High School teacher Natalie Sears went before the school board to thank police and district staff for helping them feel safe during the lockdown.

“If I had more time, I could give example after example of the acts of kindness expressed that day,” said Sears. “At all times during that day we felt safe and supported.”

“I’ve been here less than two years and I’ve never seen our community more united,” said Vargas. “Thank you to everyone who contributed.”

Also on Monday, several students discussed what it was like inside Central High School during the lockdown.

Emin Mujic, a senior, said he was at Central from 7:30 a.m. to almost 10 p.m. “My whole day was just gone, sitting at Central,” he said. He was at soccer practice and returned to the school after the game was canceled. He and several teammates spent the time in guidance. He didn’t have his books, so he couldn’t do homework.

The only thing to keep him occupied were his teammates and his phone.

Some students became emotional and were sent to the guidance department. Some needed their medication, but the nurses did not have access to it

“There were some serious tears. They just wanted to go home,” Mujic said.

He said staff handled it well. He got to know guidance counselors he had never interacted with. And teachers were nice, too. “They turned from teachers into friends,” he said.

Students said police officers were in the cafeteria barring doors and roaming the halls.

D’Andre Sanchez said he asked a police officer what would happen if he just left, and police said he would be arrested and charged with resisting arrest.

Sanchez was in the cafeteria. He said he would get up from a seat and walk occasionally, but students grew restless.

“They were treating us like we were still in school,” he said. And when teachers started distributing food — sandwich wraps — Muslim students complained that they were given ham, which they are forbidden to eat for religious reasons.

“It was getting crazy,” Sanchez said about the mood.

Cody Brasier, a senior, saw police cars around the school when he was bused back from Manchester School of Technology. They were brought from the guidance department to the cafeteria. He used his phone to keep occupied until it ran out of power.

“I think we should have been evacuated a little earlier,” he said.

He said teachers did let students go to the bathroom, but it became more controlled after one student tried to open a window and leave through it.

“You could goof around, but it went from 3 o’clock, to 4 o’clock to 5 o’clock,” said Stavros Ouellette, who was in his European history classroom. He said the teacher let student take turns every five minutes to charge their phones. “People were trying to find out what happened,” he said.

Eventually, he went to the nurse’s office, and there “all hell broke loose.” Students didn’t have access to medication. Some were panicking; one flipped over a table with a microwave and coffeemaker.

He got upset on the bus to Hillside, when a teacher hushed him after he complained that the evacuation could have happened sooner. The teacher hushed him and said someone had been killed.

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