An Egg Harbor Township elementary school was put on lockdown as a precaution after a student reported seeing a suspicious man.
But the report was later determined unsubstantiated.
The man was in dark clothes standing near the wood line of the Joyanne Miller School with a rifle, according to the child, whose report came through a third party, police said.
Police stressed that the report was not confirmed and only the 7-year-old girl reported seeing the man, who may have been hunting.
Details of her account changed slightly.
The children were safe, and police were on standby as the report was investigated, police said. K-9s searched the area, but no one was found.
Statement from Police Chief Michael Steinman
As to this particular incident, we received a report that a young child observed a man in, or near, the woods adjacent to the school and was in possession of a firearm, such as a rifle or shotgun.
There are a number of variables that would need to be considered to determine the probability of a threat existing to the school environment, in general, or the students, specifically.
Under the circumstances of this incident, the probability of an active threat would be low. However, a possibility still existed, and as such, the police officers involved did the right thing and acted as if a threat actually existed until it was proven otherwise.
Patrol officers, SWAT officers that were already working, and a K-9 team all responded, primarily because this provided the best tactical advantage to address an active threat in a fluid environment, if that threat was determined to exist.
While such a response may be alarming to some, our primary goal as law enforcement is to locate and assess any threat that may exist to the school students and faculty, to neutralize that threat in the most appropriate manner, such as de-escalation, containment, or other necessary actions, and then to reunify the student with their family. In this case, we were all fortunate that no threat was located and the report was considered to be unsubstantiated.
Concerning parental notification during an actual incident, past experience throughout the nation has shown that this can be counterproductive. Parents invariably respond to the school, which then draws police resources away from the original incident in order to address parents trying to pick up their child(ren) during a lock-down, which would not be permitted due to safety concerns.
Concerning parental notification after this incident, please remember that nothing was located to substantiate the presence of the threat. There was nothing substantive to report and, if handled a certain way, by police, the school, AND parents, the incident would not be traumatizing to the children since it would probably seem more like a drill than not. The more complaints and negative commentary, the more traumatic it can be.
Please know that the Egg Harbor Twp. Police Department has a very good relationship with the Egg Harbor Twp. School System and that we work together toward ensuring the safety of your children as best as we can. I am in frequent contact with Superintendent Gruccio for the purpose of advancing safety practices.
Again, I appreciate the support from the community!