FRAMINGHAM – Just after 10:15 a.m. on Friday, February 17 an alarm went off at Framingham High School informing staff and students that an active “shooter was in J Hall.”
As teachers and staff told students in every other hall, but J, to evacuate the school and “run,” teachers and staff in J Hall told students to lock the doors, barricade, the entrances, arm themselves, and hide, as the alarm continued to sound over the loud speakers about an active shooter inside the high school.
As students were running towards and out of every exit at Framingham High, Framingham Police detectives Sgt. Dave Loureiro and Chris Teel were running to J Hall. Those 2 Framingham Police Officers radioed for help, and within minutes every cruiser in the City of Framingham, plus every officers working a detail, had responded.
But it was a false alarm and there was no shooter.
The alarm went off at 10:17 a.m., according to students.
By 10:21, Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay knew it was NOT an active shooter but a “problem” with the high school’s active shooter alert system.
He told SOURCE that it was a false alarm. SOURCE posted an alert at 10:24 a.m.
But the official communication from the district did not come out until 10:48 a.m.
Just before 11 a.m., Tremblay told the news media “Unfortunately, a battery change tripped the Active Shooter Alarm at Framingham High School. It was a false alarm. The staff and students did exactly what they should do in a situation like this, but understandably people are upset. We are communicating with students, staff, and families and providing any counseling services or transportation resources for students, as needed.”
Staff, students, and all involved, said the Framingham Police response was immediate.
“I am extremely grateful for the quick response of the Framingham Police Department who ensured our collective safety,” said Acting Principal Amy Gerade.
“We had officers in the building and they immediately went to that area,” said Chief Lester Baker to SOURCE on Friday afternoon. “As the students ran by them, they were running to J Hall. They responded as if it was a real shooter, although it was not.”
At 10:33 a.m. Framingham Police posted on social media “The Framingham Police responded to an emergency call at Framingham High School. We had officers in the school and were on scene immediately. It was determined to be a false alarm.”
“One of the hardest things about being a parent is when you end up being helpless. That fear was realized when my son called me in a panic as he was running away from the Framingham high school earlier today. As it turns out, it was nothing more than a maintenance mishap, but this highlights how failed our schools emergency protocol is. I realize that mistakes happen. However, when you’re dealing with a system that is meant to save lives, it is appalling to hear how fragile that exact system is. I hope the one thing that will come out of this incident is a focus on training which includes the students and a deep review of important protocols. Ido commend the Framingham Police for how swiftly they responded,” said Framingham High parent Matt Keefe.
Tremblay said on Friday afternoon, he asked his Communications team to put together a timeline from Friday, so they could evaluate the response.
While the police response to the false alarm was a positive out of a bad situation, there were many unanswered questions and many issues unaddressed on the false shooter alert.
“First thing, I am trying to find out is that vendor, that battery change, why did it happen today?” said Tremblay to SOURCE on Friday afternoon.
“It should have been school vacation week,” said Supt. Tremblay.
It is unclear who gave the authorization for the battery to be changed on Friday morning.
The district’s Director of Safety & Security Scott Penrod was on vacation.
SOURCE asked Supt Tremblay if the person who changed the battery was a Framingham Public School employee or an outside vendor.
Supt. Tremblay said it was unknown, as of Friday afternoon.
SOURCE asked why the administration at the high school was not notified. that work was being done on the system.
When the Framingham Fire Department updates or tests its alarm system at Framingham High School, an announcement is made over the loud speaker that the fire department is working on the alarm system, and if it goes off there is NOT a fire and to ignore the alarm.
No announcement was made before the active shooter system went off on Friday morning.
As of Friday afternoon, Supt Tremblay said he was not clear if the high school principal and administration was “even aware that this battery was being changed.”
Framingham Police Chief Baker told SOURCE on Friday afternoon, he didn’t believe the new shooter alert system was “live yet.”
The Police Chief said when the alarm went off, it did not notify the Framingham Police Department, like a bank alarm would.
“It went off due to a battery change,” said Chief Baker.
“I don’t know who directed the battery change, and why it was done today,” said the Framingham Public School Superintendent on Friday afternoon.
The manufacturer of the system said it should not have tripped when the battery was changed, said Tremblay on Friday afternoon.
“I don’t think anybody thought the system was active,” said Supt. Tremblay on Friday.
Many didn’t even know there was an active shooter system in Framingham High School.
On October 15, 2019, then Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker made a visit to Walsh Middle School.
Gov. Baker announced $7.2 million to 143 school districts to improve safety in schools.
Framingham Public Schools was awarded $60,000 for an active shooter system.
They purchased an EAGL Gunshot Detection System.
The system was installed at Framingham High – and possibly at Walsh Middle – but both the Framingham Police Chief and the Superintendent of Schools did not think it was “active,” when SOURCE interviewed then on Friday afternoon.
“We have never done a drill with the system,” said Supt. Tremblay Friday afternoon.
“There are many gaps in what happened that I hope will be addressed when we have a debrief with the Police Department and administration next week,” said Supt. Tremblay on Friday.
The Framingham Police has worked with Framingham High administration and staff on ALICE Training, since the new system was purchased.
“We have done ALICE training,” with staff, said Supt. Tremblay.
“Our training component is with the staff,” said Baker
“Schools have been given continuous ALICE training, starting last spring,” said Dunning FTA Representative Sarah McKeon. “The police have been extremely thorough and helpful, answering questions and trying to assuage our worries.”
However, training was not given to Framingham High students.
“We have not trained the students yet,” said Tremblay on Friday afternoon.
Tremblay said the rollout for the ALICE Training was staff first, and then the students, but then the pandemic hit.
“We did not want to add additional trauma to students coming back after the pandemic,” said Tremblay on why the training was delayed.
CITY LEADERS RESPOND
Several City and elected leaders in Framingham were impacted by the false alarm shooter alert personally.
Mayor Charlie Sisitsky’s grandson is a student at Framingham High.
City Council Chair Phil Ottaviani’s daughter is a senior at Framingham High. (Valerie Ottaviani is the District 6 School Committee member.)
District 3 School Committee member Jennifer Moshe was the first elected leader to post about the incident at 11:47 a.m. on Friday.
“As a parent of a high schooler, getting a call from your child in distress is very hard, being able to talk to my child and calm her in a complicated situation, I am glad I was her voice today. An unfortunate situation happened at the high school that could have been avoided. As a school committee member, I am committed to making sure an error like today is avoided in the future. Today’s high school incident was not an active situation; it was also not a hoax where someone called in with a threat. What happened was poor planning for maintaining the system that is currently in place. This was avoidable and unfortunate. Today’s event will be an excellent example for future training to ensure our students and staff are ok. Hug your children tonight,” posted School Committee member Moshe.
District 3 School Committee member Adam Steiner’s daughter is a Framingham High students. SOURCE reached out to him for a statement over the weekend.
“As the parent of a Framingham High School student, I heard about the false alarm directly and in real-time and was shocked, terrified, and then relieved within the space of a few minutes. I have since heard about the panic, trauma, and anxiety faced by so many students and staff in the building. I understand that this was the result of maintenance work, specifically the replacement of a battery in a gunshot detector. The impact of this mistake will be felt by many for a long time to come and steps need to be taken to avoid it ever happening again. I am so thankful to the teachers and support staff of Framingham High School for helping to keep students safe during the incident and to the amazing FHS students who were also helpful to each other and to the neighborhood around the school. I am also thankful to our first responders from the Framingham Police Department who responded immediately to the potential danger and helped to manage the situation. I have expressed my strongest concerns to Superintendent Tremblay and he has assured me that FPS will report back on what went wrong and how this will be avoided in the future. In addition, FPS is offering counseling support throughout the upcoming week, which is critical so that students can talk through what happened with a professional over the vacation week. Thank you again to all the students and staff of Framingham High School for your level of concern and care for one another during this extremely traumatic incident,” said Councilor Steiner.
“Today’s false alarm was hurtful and traumatic for many in our community. This was a tragic and avoidable situation. If you, a loved one, friend, or neighbor are in need of additional support, please reach out. I, along with many of my school committee colleagues, are holding the district accountable. We need transparency and policies and procedures in place that are clear for all involved. My heart goes out to all of those affected today,” posted District 7 School Committee member Tiffanie Maskell on Friday night.
District 4 School Committee member Adam Freudberg posted on Friday night as well.
“This morning’s false alarm due to a battery maintenance issue during school hours was traumatic and avoidable on so many levels. I have not been able to stop thinking about the students, staff, and anyone on site. In addition, the ones on the receiving end who were getting panicked calls, texts, and reading about this during moments of mass confusion and fact finding. As well as the rapid response by Framingham Police and public safety officials. All are impacted in their own way and have my support,” said Freudberg
“Thank you all of the FHS families and students, and concerned community members who reached out sharing your thoughts on Friday’s traumatic incident at the high school. I share your fear and frustration. I don’t take the trust you’ve shown by reaching out lightly. I am working with my school committee colleagues and FPS leadership to learn more details about yesterday and craft steps on improving how we keep your children safe. With so much still developing, words can be difficult, and the last thing I want is to add to any trauma with words. For now I leave you with these words: I hear you. I encourage you to share your thoughts as we continue this discussion to help our students process and heal. I will continue to work closely with the superintendent and his team as we address lessons learned, accountability, and continue ensuring resources are available for our students to heal,” posted School Committee Chair Priscila Sousa on Saturday.
“Having been a middle school principal for several years, I am horrified by the trauma inflicted on students and staff during this incident. I always felt that even announced drills were traumatic, I cannot imagine this scenario,” said City Councilor George P. King Jr.
“I am confident that the school department will do a thorough review. If nothing else before the system maintenance began, why was a “just in case” announcement not made like when work is done on the fire alarm? Also use the opportunity to thoroughly review communication processes, what worked and what did not, once the alarm went off. I am hopeful a little bit of good can be salvaged from this very bad incident,” said Councilor King, a former Superintendent of Schools.
Friday “was a very tough day for students, parents, and staff at Framingham High School and in our community. Thank you to our teachers, administrators, and students for their leadership, compassion, and resilience with Fridays’s event. It was a scary and frustrating experience that thankfully ended without anyone getting hurt,” said District 8 School Committee Jessica Barnhill. “We live in a world plagued by mass shootings. As a 18-year high school teacher who regularly participates in active shooter trainings, and has been in active shooter emergency alarms, I’ll tell you first-hand it is scary and traumatizing. As a parent, it gives me chills just thinking about it the potential impact. I am confident our district will use this as an opportunity to improve our training, communication, and safety systems. Luckily, this was a false alarm. As a city, state, and nation there is work to be done. We need to end gun violence.”
An incident debrief with Framingham Public School Director fo Security Penrod, Framingham High administration, the communication team, Framingham Police, said Supt. Tremblay is being planned to answer some of these questions and to address the issues raised by Friday’s false alarm.
“Nobody was physically injured, that is great news,” said Supt Tremblay late Friday afternoon. “But many were traumatized.”
STUDENTS, STAFF & PARENTS
“No parent should receive the kinds of calls we got from our kids today. They were running, terrified with police sirens screaming. These kids, the teachers, parents, they all know how this could have gone down. The threat and daily reality of gun violence is sadly normal. We shouldn’t have to live like this,” said Samantha McGarry, mother of an Framingham High sophomore and volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.
“All three of my teens go here and my oldest called me in a panic because it took a while to find out it was a false alarm. One of them had to run, and it was extremely scary for the short amount of time. It was very scary,” posted Alexandra Griffin on SOURCE
“As a parent, it was so beneficial that my daughter had her phone on her and was able to call me during this terrifying situation. I think the days of asking students to keep phones in lockers should be over with. She called me immediately after fleeing, and no communication from the school until over 30 min later. Having her phone on her person was crucial,” posted Gina Ceruti on SOURCE. “She actually found out from your first post that it was a false alarm as I was driving to pick her up, long before the school sent anything, Thank You for that!”
“This alarming “false alarm” is nothing new. I was casually sitting in my math class taking a test, beyond excited because it was my last period and I was ready for February break. All of a sudden “shooter located in j hall” announced throughout the entire school. Sudden fear approached as my heart dropped to my stomach. My teacher alarmed trying to direct us to the corner. I refused and pointed to the numerous kids running in fear through the halls. That’s when she knew to say the words “run”. This is unacceptable. I made a run for it as multiple students were falling down the stairs terrified. Luckily I live close enough I ran home. During this I called my parents in fear for what was going on. Not only is this completely unacceptable the school should keep in mind the trauma they have now caused on many individuals,” said student Avery Scata.
“They also need to take into consideration the kids who have no way home or we’re not as fortunate as me to live so close. When the “false alarm” was announced. I had went back to the school to grab my things from my classroom. Which then I was approached by an adult who had said “you need to go to class!” Are you serious? How does the schools staff expect kids to “go back to class” when they most likely just experienced the most traumatic experience of their lives. I ignored the adult and proceeded to grab my belongings. This is something the school cannot just simple “apologize” for. The Framingham School Committee needs to do better,” said Scata.
“I was in class when the alarm went off. We didn’t understand what they were saying until the second repetition. My teacher looked at us and just told us to run. Everyone in the hall was running for the door, we were pushing each other down the stairs, people were telling us to keep running, to not stop. I lost track of my friends as everyone ran in a mob through the streets, we couldn’t slow down as we all sprinted through the rain .The first thing I realized when I got a few blocks away from the school was that I didn’t know where my brother was,” said Framingham High senior Joseph McClennan.
“Eventually, the teachers heard on their radios that it was a false alarm and started calling us back towards the building. I remember meeting my English teacher, who was standing outside the building, clutching her year-old baby she had managed to grab from the daycare before she left the building. Everyone was crying. I’m just mad that this happened in the first place, and I’m mad at the way the administration responded. It’s absurd and horrible that this happened in the first place, and telling people to go back to class is downright unconscionable. I didn’t listen and neither did any of my friends. I don’t think people are going to feel very safe at school for a long time. I know I’m not,” said McClennan.
“Hearing the alarm go off in class today was the most terrifying experience I have faced. Hearing a muffled intercom announcement blaring and saying there was a shooter in J hall thrust everyone into a panic and everyone got out of the school as fast as they could and we were instructed to keep running. The teachers outside didn’t seem to be notified there was a false alarm, so they kept getting us to run farther and father from the school. I called my father as soon as I got out, I was terrified, I could barely get any words out other than telling him to come get me and that I couldn’t see my friends. I was scared people were going to die. The alarm went off at around 10:15, I called my dad 3 mins later when I finally managed to get out of the school and just kept running. The fact that it was a false alarm and it could have been prevented, because genuinely who changes that kind of alarm without warning anyone during the school day, was upsetting. It was so hard to see kids, my peers, walking with and holding babies and toddlers. Texting my friends frantically by the time I got into the car with my dad and hearing that some of them were hiding in closets in the basement where the “shooter” was detected was terrifying up until my parents got the very late phone call telling us it was safe. After the anxiety settled I got angry, this could have been prevented. All because of someone changing batteries for an alarm, kids probably thought they or their peers were going to die and the panic didn’t settle until we were notified that it was just a false alarm. The school should have immediately coordinated an early release for us instead of deciding we should “resume as normal”. I went home, I didn’t want to go back into the school. If it was a false fire alarm, sure, go back to class. But a false active shooter alarm? Why make kids who were just running for what they thought was life and death go back to school and “resume as normal”? So disappointing,” posted Achilles Hicks on SOURCE.
SOURCE reached out to the Framingham Teachers Association building representatives for Framingham High to ask about their personal experience and a statement. The Union representatives sent one joint statement on Monday, february 20.
“Our community is still recovering. In the moment, this was a very real threat which elicited very real emotions and responses. We are thankful that all of our students and colleagues are safe, but the impact from this is something we will be dealing with for a long time. We are also aware that we all had different experiences during and after this event; there is no “right” way to feel or process what happened. We are committed to helping everyone get the support they need. We have a lot of questions about why the alarm system was being worked on without notification, why we had never heard this particular alarm before, and how the Office of Safety & Security will be improving its protocols. It would have been helpful if we had the door stoppers and straps that were promised to stop our interior classroom doors from opening. We wish that transportation was able to be secured so that all students could be dismissed afterwards. We
still aren’t sure why all FHS staff were not immediately notified directly from the district that this was a false alarm, rather than 23 minutes after it was posted online,” wrote the representatives Camille Spence Edmonds, Andrew Foley, Kurt Fusaris, Lydia Jones, Jason Ricardo, Maria Sequenzia, Stacey Wilgoren to SOURCE.
“We are incredibly proud of how our staff and students responded during the threat and supported each other afterwards. We appreciate the FPD’s quick response, and their help directing and reassuring students and staff. We are grateful to the FHS admin team for their communication and support, and to the members of Central Office who were at the staff meeting after school on Friday, and at FHS during the day on Saturday. The FHS community is strong, and we will work together to heal from this. But we want to be clear— although this thankfully ended up being a false alarm, it was real for us while it was happening. And the trauma resulting from that should not be downplayed or understated,” emailed the Framingham High union representatives to SOURCE.
“Thank you FHS teachers and staff for helping our kids while you were experiencing the same trauma that they were,” posted Jenny Landsiedel.
Framingham Public Schools offered counseling support on Saturday, February 18. There is counseling support available this week Tuesday through Friday, and there will be counseling support when vacation is over, too, said Supt. Tremblay.
MANY QUESTIONS & ISSUES STILL TO BE ADDRESSED
“I have urged for a swift review process with the results made public. I commit to collaborate with my colleagues to take every possible action to prevent this from happening again in the future and work to strengthen confidence in all schools’ alarm systems and emergency response procedures. As the School Committee’s deputy warrant signer, I have placed a request to hold on any associated vendor bill which may or may not come before the district. I am not aware yet if the alarm going off was the result of any direct or associated vendor issue or not. If it was, no vendor should be paid if they had a role in this incident without a detailed and comprehensive review of their scope and compliance. That pause for a review before any funds are authorized has been requested,” said District 4 School Committee member Freudberg.
FTA building representative for Dunning Elementary McKeon said since the ALICE Training began the teachers have suggested to have the ability to use cell phones during a dangerous event.
“Unfortunately there is poor WI_FI service in most buildings, limiting our ability to text,” said McKeon. “We have been asking since the first ALICE Training for that to be fixed. It has not been. It would have been nice to have (Framingham Public Schools Safety & Security) Scott Penrod visit each individual school building to find out their unqiue needs and challenges, and then take the steps necessary to each building as safe as possible.”
“As we go into this vacation week, we are thinking of the FHS staff, students, and families who were affected by yesterday’s false active shooter alarm. We are proud of how our FHS community members used their training to make in-the-moment decisions to keep everyone as safe as possible in a terrifying situation. Thank you to Amy Gerade for her leadership, as well as the rest of the FHS admin team, who did their best to communicate during this extremely
stressful event while simultaneously managing the situation. We appreciate their continued support for staff and students. The FTA would also like to thank the Framingham Police Department for their quick response and presence throughout the afternoon. We look forward to debriefing this event with FPS leadership to discuss how the procedures and communication could be improved,” said Framingham Teachers Association President Christine Mulroney.
SOURCE sent Superintendent of Schools Tremblay a list of questions on Saturday.
Sunday, February 19, Supt Tremblay responded with this “Thank you for checking in to follow-up on last Friday’s incident at Framingham High School. I am in the process of investigating the very concerns that you have raised in your communication to me. As a matter of standing practice, we will conduct incident debriefs together with our first responders and administrators to determine exactly what happened and why as it relates to this accidental false active shooter alarm and, equally as important, we will identify failure points to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. I will be at Framingham High School this week to personally conduct an investigation of this incident ahead of our return to school following the February break. In the meanwhile, school and district efforts are focused on helping our students and staff who were traumatized by this incident and it is important that we address the mental health of everyone involved while simultaneously seeking answers to what happened and why.”