Ricardo Richards students go to class under heavy guard Anonymous caller threatened children

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ST. CROIX - An atmosphere of uncertainty and caution hung over the Ricardo Richards Elementary School campus early Wednesday morning, after parents were alerted that police responded to a threat at the school hours before.

St. Croix Police Chief Christopher Howell said emergency dispatchers received a call Tuesday evening from someone who said they were going to harm children that attend the school. As a result, officials from the V.I. Education Department and V.I. Police officers spent hours Wednesday morning securing the campus, Howell said.

More than a dozen Police officers and K-9 units responded to the scene about 6 a.m. Wednesday and searched the school for any suspicious items, activity or signs of danger, according to Howell. The school was deemed safe before any students or staff were let in, he said.

When the majority of the students began arriving at the school just before 7:30 a.m., they were met by more than a dozen police officers on the campus. Some wore uniforms, and some were dressed in civilian clothing.

Officers gave students walk-through tours of the department's mobile command unit to keep the children occupied and prevent them from fanning out across the campus. While some parents dropped their children off and left the school, more than 50 parents stayed at the school demanding answers from officials, who initially said it was just a drill, according to one parent.

The police emergency listing, which keeps a log of all calls made to 911, said the call came in to dispatchers at 6:29 p.m. Tuesday. The call initially was classified as a telephone harassment, and the final disposition of the call was listed as a police assistance in Barren Spot.

St. Croix School Superintendant Gary Molloy asked parents to remain calm and confident that the combined crisis response team from the Police and Education departments were out in full force and had assessed the situation and determined that the students would be safe on the campus.

"We realize the times we are living in, and we can't take it lightly," he said.

The Police Department also set up a surveillance vehicle, wired with panning and zooming camera capabilities, in the school's parking lot to monitor all individuals going in, out and around the campus throughout the day, Molloy said. School Security Bureau officers will continue to be posted at the school until a final assessment is made.

Howell said he knows that similar threats are called in to public or private establishments frequently and in his 20 years in law enforcement, there never has been a threat that has actually proven to be substantive.

"We know calls are going to come in, and we have our teams in place to respond as necessary," he said.

Despite confirmation from the Education and Police officials, some parents said leaving their children in school with a looming threat was difficult. Dozens of students were pulled from classes by their parents before and right after classes were called into session.

Throughout the day, it was business as usual at the school, with the exception of four uniformed officers and a detective stationed on the campus, two police cruisers parked outside the front of the school and one K-9 Unit parked on the school's southern boundary.

Molloy said all of the schools in the district have emergency situation procedures to follow in the event of a crisis, but he acknowledged that Ricardo Richards, located, just off Melvin Evans Highway in Barren Spot, has had more emergency situations in recent months than any other school.

The school had emergency evacuations on a number of occasions in 2010 and 2011, when noxious fumes from nearby industrial plants overtook the campus and got into the ventilation system. The school was placed on lockdown Oct. 26 when Scotia Bank in Estate Ruby was robbed at gunpoint and the suspect fled on foot in a westward direction toward the school, which is less than a mile away.

On Feb. 25, the campus was placed on lockdown again after an armed robbery took place at a small variety store less that a half mile away on Queen Mary highway. One person was arrested, but several suspects remained at large.

Molloy said both departments handled their responsibility aggressively to ensure the safety of all involved. He rated their response plan and action as being carried out well.

School officials said classes and instruction were carried out as usual but the Wednesday's after-school program was cancelled.

Regular classes are expected to resume today.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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