Terrified high school students were barricaded inside classrooms for hours Wednesday during a weapons-related lockdown that ended with the arrest of a 15-year-old boy.
Halifax Regional Police said they recovered an imitation handgun after responding to a weapons complaint at Dartmouth High School, across the harbour from downtown Halifax.
The school administration said in an email to parents and guardians that the lockdown began just before dismissal time when police notified the school of a potential threat.
Students huddled inside classrooms for hours, many clutching cell phones and sending worried messages to parents, as heavily armed police officers swarmed the school.
Angela Jones-Rieksts, whose son is in Grade 10, said she received a text message from him shortly after 3 p.m. saying, “I love you.”
“Then he said, ‘Mom I think I’m going to die … We’re on lockdown and we believe there’s a shooter in the school,”‘ she said. “At that point I had arrived at the school and I had never seen so many police cars in my life.”
Jones-Rieksts said she continued to exchange messages with her son throughout the frightening ordeal.
“He was saying words of goodbye … it’s upsetting for a mother to get text messages like that from her son.”
Chris Davis said he arrived at the school early to pick up his daughter, in Grade 9, when police “started swooping in left, right and centre.”
“All of a sudden the assault rifles came out, and they came out with battering rams, shields, and … then they brought in the bomb squad and dogs,” he said.
Davis said police indicated to parents a suspect was in the school gymnasium.
“I’m communicating with my daughter,” he said before the lockdown was lifted.
“They’re barricaded inside their classrooms, they’re not allowed to make any phone calls, they’re not allowed to talk. They’re allowed to text but they have to stay absolutely quiet.”
Davis added: “They’re all scared, they’re scared out of their minds.”
He estimated that there were roughly 35 squad cars, vans and unmarked police cars on the scene.
After the lockdown was lifted, he said students looked “visibly shaken” by the incident.
The Halifax Regional Centre for Education said in a tweet at 5:30 p.m. that the lockdown was lifted.
“Police completed building search and have determined students can safely be dismissed,” the education centre said in the tweet.
A police officer told parents gathered inside the nearby Zatzman Sportsplex gym that one person was in custody and “everybody is OK.”
“There’s only one person we needed to worry about,” the police officer told about 200 parents gathered at the gym.
The officer said students would be released one at a time and their bags will be checked “for their safety.”
The school administration said in the email to parents and guardians that police arrived promptly following the weapons complaint and helped secure the school.
“Please be assured that student safety was our number one priority throughout the process,” the email said.
The school administration added: “We also want to acknowledge how difficult it must have been for parents/guardians to wait for updates while allowing the school and the HRCE to work with the police to ensure the safety of everyone.”
It wasn’t until after 5:30 p.m. that police spokeswoman Neera Ritcey said officers had a suspect in custody.
“No injuries were sustained by anyone,” she said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.
The incident slowed traffic for several hours in the area. Police said just before 7 p.m. that they had left the high school.