Former student found with gun, knife, inside West HS

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Damian Johnson was charged with criminal trespassing for entering West High School Thursday with weapons. He has previous arrests for weapons and burglary in NH and Florida. Full story below.

Damien Johnson, entered West High School armed with a pellet gun and knife.
New mug shot of Damian Johnson, entered West High School armed with a pellet gun and knife. See slideshow below.
Click through slideshow below:

Damian Johnson, 21, didn’t belong at West High School.

But the former student walked through the front door Thursday morning , along with everyone else, carrying with him a pellet gun and a knife, “contraband,” as police referred to it, inside a backpack.

Within 20 minutes of the start of the first period at 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 25, a swarm of state and local police cars were screaming down Main Street and surrounding the building, along with armored SWAT vehicles, a fast and furious response to information first reported by a West student, who saw Johnson with a gun inside the cafeteria, where students were eating breakfast before class.

That student went to the Student Resource Officer, who alerted school administrators.

Over the next 10 minutes, police and school administrators were sending out text alerts, to parents, teachers inside the building, and the media, informing them that the school was locked down. At least three SWAT teams entered the building in protective gear with automatic rifles.Screen shot 2014-09-25 at 1.46.49 PM

Administrators communicated with teachers via text to keep them informed of what was happening as it unfolded, said Assistant Superintendent David Ryan.

Nearby Parkside Middle School was also contacted and put on alert. No one in or out, according to School Superintendent Debra Livingston

Instagram photo taken by a West student who posted it on Instagram as the action unfolded.
Instagram photo taken by a West student who posted it on Instagram as the action unfolded.

From inside the building students were texting with one another, and with their parents, and even posting on Instagram about what was going on.

West sophomore Tim Joyce, who was arriving just before 8:30 a.m. for his first period of the day, was turned away.

“As I was heading to school I saw all these cop cars flying down South Main Street. I was told there was a kid inside with a gun,” said Joyce, who was standing on Notre Dame Avenue with another student around 9 a.m., watching and waiting for more information.

Most of all, parents were frantic for information, many of them trying to get through to their children via phone or text.

“I was home in my pajamas drinking coffee when I saw an alert on WMUR. I dropped everything and rushed over,” said Gerrylyn Emery, whose twin 14-year-old daughters, Britney and Brianna, were inside the building. [See video of Emery here.]

“All I could think about was the Connecticut school shooting,” said Emery. “I couldn’t get a hold of Britney, but I texted Brianna and told her to stay away from doors, stay down and if she saw anyone with a gun, to play dead.”

Other parents gathered just beyond police tape and shared the information with one another that they were getting from their children, via text.

By 9:30 a.m. Johnson, who attended the high school between 2009-2011 according to a school spokesman, was apprehended inside a small occupied classroom on the third floor, according to Manchester Police Chief David Mara, and taken into custody by police without further incident. By 10 a.m. Johnson was on his way to be booked at Manchester Police headquarters.

An “authentic looking” pellet gun, which resembles a handgun, was found in a backpack belonging to Johnson, along with the knife.

Mara said he would not elaborate on whether Johnson was known to police.

According to Manchester police records, Johnson has prior arrests dating back to 2011 including simple assault, stalking and unarmed robbery.

He was most recently charged in June of 2014 by Manchester Police for felony receiving stolen property, burglary and prowling in the same neighborhood as West High School. He was released on $1,000 bail.

And in October of 2013, Johnson was arrested by St. Petersburg, FL., police, charged as a fugitive from NH, for robbery with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest and burglary of an unoccupied home.

Lockdown was lifted just after 9:30 a.m. and many students and parents were reunited outside the building.

Police have charged Johnson with criminal trespass. Other charges may be forthcoming, Mara said. More information on what motivated Johnson to enter the school with weapons is the focus of the follow-up investigation.

For right now, police and school officials are relieved that everything worked the way it was supposed to, and that no one was injured.

“At no time were any overt threats made to any students or any teachers. What the school administration and staff did, as well as Manchester Police, we followed our training and were able to bring this to an end. We were glad it wasn’t a real gun. However, it proves training is important and we have to continue to safeguard the safety of our children, and I want to assure the public that’s what we did,” Mara said.

The incident happened just one day after the FBI released a new study on the statistical rise of of mass shootings around the country. They cite 160 “active shooter” incidents between 2000 and 2013, in which police responded to situations in which one or more individuals were attempting to kill people. Of those, 27 happened in schools.

Livingston said during the search for the wanted individual, “every procedure was followed by clockwork by Principal Motika, teachers and the other administrators in the building as well as students. We also thank our parents who remained calm,” Livingston said.

School Principal Christopher Motika said usual procedure is to have staff in the front of the school in the morning, both outside and inside, as well as staff members in the cafeteria.

Students begin arriving at school as early as 7 a.m. until the front door locks at 7:55 a.m.

The Student Resource Officer is typically either out in the halls or in the cafeteria with students, or in his office preparing for the school day to begin before the first class bell rings, Motika said.

“The process did work.  The person was identified and we were able to use our emergency response protocol to ensure the safety of students, Motika said.

About Carol Robidoux 5198 Articles
Journalist and editor of ManchesterInkLink.com, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.