Teens making video with fake weapons confronted by police officer; 'quick reactions' prevail
Stonington - Just after 3 p.m. on Dec. 19, police Youth Officer Tim Marley received a call on his cellphone from the vice principal at the high school.
Mark Friese said a teacher had just told him that four male teens dressed in black and carrying guns were walking from the gym toward the football field.
The teacher was not sure whether the guns were real or Airsoft replicas that shoot plastic pellets.
Marley told Friese to call police and report what he'd heard. Marley, Detective Cody Floyd and Officer Tom Paige headed for the school.
Paige got there first and found one of the 15-year-old boys pointing a handgun at another at the West Pavilion on Spellman Drive. Paige told him to drop the gun but he didn't. Instead, he yelled to Paige that the gun was fake. Paige again told the teen to drop the weapon, and this time he did.
The boys then told Paige they were working on a video project that included a section of "war-like fighting."
Police also confiscated two replica assault rifles. Orange barrel tips that define the three as Airsoft replicas and not real weapons had been removed. Without the tips, police couldn't differentiate a replica from the real thing.
"I told (names deleted) and their parents that this could have ended in a tragedy if it wasn't for the quick reactions done by officer Paige," Marley later wrote in a report.
Details of the incident are contained in a report that the police department released Monday after The Day filed a freedom of information request. The names of the boys, who were not charged with a crime, were redacted.
Last week, police Chief J. Darren Stewart joined state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, at a Capitol press conference to announce a bill that would ban all "look-alike firearms" from school grounds, including paint-ball and BB guns. The bill also would make it illegal to remove or to cover the orange barrel tips on facsimile guns. Violating either provision of the proposed law would be a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in a jail and a fine of up to $500.
Urban and Stewart used the Stonington incident, which they described in general terms, as evidence of the need for the law.
After the press conference, Capitol reporters asked Stewart and Urban to provide more details about the incident, such as the school at which it occurred, but they declined, saying the details were well known among residents.
But police and school officials had never released any information about the incident, and even First Selectmen Ed Haberek said he did not learn about it until last week when he read about the press conference.
Haberek then sent an email to Stewart saying he would like to be apprised of such incidents when they happen. Haberek said Tuesday that he had concerned parents calling him last week asking for details about the incident and that he was unable to provide them with any information.
Stewart said Tuesday that police made no announcement about the incident at the time because it was resolved quickly and no crime had been committed. But as police learned more about incidents across the country in which officers have accidently shot people holding Airsoft guns with the tips removed, they began working with Urban to address some of the gaps in the law by introducing legislation.
As for Paige, Stewart said he did an incredible job. "He was placed in an awful position as a police officer," he said. "He used extremely sound judgment, and because of that the result is what we wanted to happen."
Superintendent of Schools Leanne Masterjoseph declined Tuesday to release any other details about the incident.
Marley's report said the three replicas belonged to one of the boys. He wrote that police contacted the parents of all the boys and advised them of the dangers of displaying the guns in public, especially on school grounds. He said the parents appeared "very concerned" and "were pleased with the outcome."
Although the report states the boys were working on a "war-type movie," the report released by the town redacted the name of the class for which they were making the film.
Marley said he reviewed the report with Lt. Todd Olson and they both felt no crime had been committed and that no enforcement action should be taken.
"The kids involved in this incident made no threat to cause harm to anyone with the guns and their only intentions were to create a video," wrote Marley.
The three guns were returned to a woman associated with one of the boys, police said.