By John Lynds
East Boston Parents became alarmed last Wednesday as social media began to report that the Mario Umana Academy was on lockdown due to reports of a suspicious man outside the building with a firearm even before they received calls from the Boston Public School Department.
According to police, a group of students were playing outside when a few students stumbled upon a homeless man that became startled by their presence. The area behind the school along the water’s edge from the Umana to Liberty Plaza has been a haven for homeless encampments. Students ran to teachers and reported the man and said they believed he had a “gun.” The children were rushed inside and the school was placed on lockdown or “safe mode.”
An officer patrolling the area was on the scene within minutes of the 911 call, and searched the area. While the officer and other responding officers found a group of homeless, they did not recover a firearm at the scene. After the area was swept the school sent out the following message to parents and staff, according to BPS Spokesman Daniel O’Brien;
“This is (the Umana School) calling to inform you that our school today was placed in safe mode for about a half hour during recess after police received reports of a man possessing a firearm in the vicinity of the school. Boston Police immediately responded and conducted a thorough search of the area, which was not on school property. Officers, however, were unable to locate the man or the weapon. The safety of our students is a top priority of the Boston Public Schools. I want to assure you that our staff today followed all proper procedures to ensure our students remained safe at all times. Counselors were also available for any students who needed support. Boston and School police will remain vigilant in patrolling the area. Thank you for your time. If you have any questions, please call our school office at 617-635-8481. You may press the star key to hear this message again.”
However, by the time many parents received the message they had already read reports of the lockdown on the Facebook page East Boston Open Discussion. The reports, which ranged from the lockdown being the result of a suspicious male outside the school, all the way to a man inside the school holding a gun to a student’s head. These rumors of exactly what was going on at the school caused panic as some parents raced down to the Umana to pull their children out of school for the rest of the day.
“I seriously don’t care what story is accurate, I want a call from the school when my child is or could be in any kind of danger,” said Maria Guarino. “The kids seen the man with a gun so for the school trying to make it seem like it wasn’t a big deal is wrong. My daughter’s class was using a wire to hold the door closed and blocking the windows.”
While it turned out there was no evidence of a firearm, police were not taking any chances.
Captain Kelly McCormick has reached out to some of the property owners along the waterfront on Border Street. The police are working with the owners and other agencies to begin removing the homeless encampments out of an abundance of caution. This will include removing any temporary shelters and tents that have been erected by the homeless population that frequent the area.