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Juvenile charged after two fake guns found at Norwich Free Academy

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Norwich — "We've got a gun, we need somebody here now," a Norwich Free Academy employee told Norwich police Monday morning as the school entered a 70-minute lockdown, according to police department phone recordings obtained by The Day.

One person under the age of 18 has been charged in connection to the lockdown. Two fake guns were found on school property and a plastic-tipped bullet was found in a student's backpack, according to school officials, police and phone records.

But, due to the individual's age, police were not releasing any information about who the person is or whether he or she attends NFA. Police did not immediately respond to requests for information about what the person was charged with.

Officials also didn't specify where the fake pistols — which officials in a statement said were incapable of firing live rounds, but could produce loud sounds — were found on school property. The "stay put" order was put in place after a school safety officer noticed  "unusual behavior" by a student. Officials said the lockdown was not for a threat of a school shooting.

"At no time was this an active shooter scenario," NFA Head of School Brian Kelly said a statement issued Tuesday morning.

Two students were questioned in connection to the unusual behavior and firearms, according to Kelly,  and may face discipline by the school and possible charges by the Norwich Police Department.

Monday's lockdown was prolonged, Kelly said, by concerns about an unrelated incident: Campus safety officials were investigating a "potentially concerning conversation overheard by a student on one of our bus routes earlier in the morning" while they were investigating the other student's "unusual behavior."

The school-bus conversation was "eventually determined to be harmless," Kelly said.

In a phone call with Thomas Lazzaro of the Norwich Police Department that was obtained by The Day as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, a school employee named Wayne told police the school needed an officer on site as staff were investigating some suspicious comments about guns made by two boys on school bus No. 9 that morning. While he was talking to the officer, he reported finding a plastic-tipped piece of ammunition in a backpack that a student had tried to "hand off" as school officials "were trying to track him down." He then said they found a gun and asked the officer to get police to the school as soon as possible.

NFA's website lists Wayne Sheehan as the school's campus safety director.

In another phone call obtained by The Day, Sheehan spoke with police about social media rumors about school shooting threats but said no threats had been verified.

Kelly said school officials were taking Monday's events very seriously. "Even though the events that happened yesterday were resolved without incident, I understand the anxiety and discomfort felt by the members of our school community. This is not a situation we are taking lightly," he said Tuesday.

The lockdown prompted parents and students to demand the school take action in response to what they said are increasing incidents of bullying, violence and threats at schools throughout the state.

Youth and mental health advocate Marcela Lee led a group of parents in a 30-minute meeting with Norwich police Monday afternoon. Lee also is organizing a Rally against School Violence and Bullying at 11 a.m. Saturday at Chelsea Parade green at the junction of Broadway and Washington Street.

Kelly said the school will be scheduling a community forum about school safety.

"My commitment to you is that we will continue to improve all aspects of this process, from lockdown procedures to overall communication. Our number one priority is the safety of our students, teachers and staff," he said, adding that information about the forum will be made available later this week.

He also said the school would begin an immediate review of its "policies and procedures as they relate to all aspects of school safety" and commended school public safety staff, Norwich police and the student who reported the concerning comments on the school bus for the actions they took to help keep the school community safe.

t.hartz@theday.com 

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