Parents not told about gunpoint incident

NASHUA – School officials never notified parents that two students forced another teen into a physical beating at gunpoint on the pathway that leads to school property.

This lack of notification angered some parents, including those who say the school does little to stop fights along the bridge and footpath where the assault occurred and where students walk everyday.

“They didn’t call us. They didn’t tell us anything,” Paul Crowley, whose 13-year-old son attends eighth grade at the school, said Tuesday, the day police informed the public of the incident.

“I thought maybe my son didn’t give me anything. So I called the school just now, and the person on the phone said they didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “Give me a break.”

Donovan Duncan, whose 11-year-old son attends the school, considers the lack of information released to parents as negligent and “maybe putting our kids in danger.”

The assault took place immediately after school Sept. 19, a Friday, on the footpath just over the pedestrian bridge that crosses Henri Burque Drive, police said.

Superintendent of Schools Christopher Hottel said the matter was of “great concern,” but added that it occurred off school grounds.

School officials were told the fight happened in the Christian Bible Church Academy parking lot on the side of the bridge opposite from the school, Hottel said.

School officials heard about the fight as it happened, but when they reached the scene, all participants had dispersed, Hottel said in an interview. Pennichuck administrators learned of the seriousness of the incident the following Monday, including the fact that a pellet gun had been brought to school by one of the students, he said.

Two days later, Sept. 24, the two students were suspended, Hottel said.

Parents didn’t learn of the alleged assault through school channels of communication, or from the superintendent. Rather, parents interviewed Tuesday said they found out about the incident either through The Telegraph’s Web stories or word-of-mouth among other parents.

School administrators issue advisory notices to parents on a case-by-case basis, Hottel said. “We don’t want to be alarmist and report some things,” he said. If a principal feels that a notice to parents would make a difference, he would issue one, he said.

An administrator will issue an advisory if a gun was found on school property, Hottel said. But if a gun “was not seen and not known” and administrators learn of it later through an investigation, then the principal decides if an advisory is warranted, he said.

While parents searched for answers Tuesday, Hottel sent an e-mail explanation to school board members, saying that he wanted to make them “aware of an incident involving several PMS students that from our perspective was resolved.”

He commented on the media attention the case was receiving Tuesday, adding: “Despite the time that has elapsed, for some reason as I write Channel 7 is set up across the street and is filming the school from off school property. The Telegraph has a web article on the event as of this afternoon.”

The full text of Hottel’s e-mail to school board members can be read at

According to police, one student held a pellet gun and threatened the 13-year-old victim to either fight a second student or get shot, police said. The victim thought it was a real gun and figured it was best to fight, police said.

He was beaten up but didn’t require medical attention, police said. A third student pushed the victim into the bushes as the fight broke up and is being charged along with the other two students, police said.

The footbridge and pathway lead to a sidewalk along Manchester Street and the neighborhoods off Hills Ferry Road, including the Christian Bible Church Academy parking lot, where parents wait in vehicles for their children.

The walkway has long been an area of concern for parents, who say that fights and other misbehavior are common in the area. But some parents have complained that administrators have ignored their concerns, saying the bridge is not school property.

Parent Rhonda Francione said she is always “worried” about fights along the pathway and footbridge, and wants the school to keep a closer eye. “I think that bridge area is kind of tough,” she said.

Paul Crowley said the school should have notified parents about the latest incident, regardless of school boundaries. “If it ends on the school side or the church side, it doesn’t matter. The bridge is there because the school is there.”

Hottel said school officials understand parents’ concerns. Pennichuck administrators monitor students “up onto the bridge but there are limitations,” he said.

Police removed one of the two student resource officers who worked in all elementary and middle schools, Hottel said. Now, only one student resource officer covers grades kindergarten through eight, he said.

“There’s an SRO officer and we make use of him,” Hottel said. “And it’s a challenge. If there’s notification of a fight, sometimes it’s on the next street, off grounds, and the group moves onto Greeley Park.”

Hottel said school officials will work closely with police but prevention goes beyond that.

“It really has to do with the community and the culture and the education . . . letting students know about responsibility and how to stop fighting.”