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Vermont police apologize for fake shooting that left high school students hiding under tables and sending farewell text messages

By Taylor Galgano, Amanda Musa and Amy Simonson, CNN

(CNN) — Police in Burlington, Vermont, have apologized to high school students who were confused by a role-playing robbery demonstration and mock shooting that they say caused them to dive to the ground to hide under tables and say “goodbye” and “I love you” to text their students. loved ones.

About 20 students from a Burlington High School Year End Studies (YES) forensics class went to the police station Wednesday for a field trip, where school officials knew a crime would be reenacted, Russ Elek, spokesperson for the school district, said in a statement to the VTDigger.

However, school officials “did not realize the presentation would take place without warning,” Elek said.

During the visit, three Burlington Police Department employees simulated a robbery scenario that did not target students or faculty, the department said in a news release.

Police said they communicated with school staff last month about the details of the demonstration, “including that the training incident would involve ‘fake firearms being used in a mock shooting.'” It is unclear whether teachers were told the simulation would occur without warning.

A 15-year-old in the class said the students were listening to a presentation when he suddenly heard people enter the room shouting.

“There’s about three people fighting. The fake rifle, which we didn’t know was fake at the time, was brought out and shot what I thought were blanks. They left shells behind. And it was still loud,” the sophomore, who asked not to be identified, told CNN. “Me and almost the entire class dived to the ground to hide under the tables because we didn’t know what was going on.”

CNN has contacted Burlington police about the weapon used in the simulation.

The student said the person holding the gun was wearing a mask and they heard someone yelling “get down.” He said it was shaking and some children took out their phones to text relatives.

The email from school officials to families said: “Although the weapon was fake, the reenactment was accompanied by screams and fake sounds of gunshots.”

“If these are the people ‘protecting’ us, why did they make such a stupid decision without really thinking? … Especially when it comes to school shootings and stuff, we’re all already on edge,” the student said.

Police said they asked school staff if the demonstration would be appropriate for the student group. They said, “It’s as realistic as it gets, and it’s certainly exactly the kind of thing we deal with most often.”

“YES The program staff responded, ‘I think these students will enjoy this simulation. We will warn parents and students,” the police statement said.

But in an email sent to students’ families after the incident, school officials wrote that the simulation “was startling for many students and has therefore left some with a sense of confusion and fear,” the VTDigger reported.

Burlington School District Superintendent Tom Flanagan and Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad issued a joint statement Friday apologizing to the students.

“It is clear to us that this week’s events are the result of a breakdown in communication between two groups trying to work together to create a meaningful experience for students,” the statement said in part. “Both BSD and the BPD are committed to setting out descriptions, expectations and agendas more clearly and seeking clarification as they work together in the future. Neither of us wants something like this to happen again in the future.”

Students ‘literally thought they were being shot at’

The sophomore and his parent said they did not know there would be a shooting demonstration during the field trip. A grandparent who is the guardian of one of the students also said the school had not informed them of the planned mock shooting. CNN has not been able to independently confirm what parents and students were told before the trip.

“If I had known this would happen, I would never have done that to him,” said the grandparent, who asked to remain anonymous to protect the grandchild’s privacy.

The grandparent said the students “literally thought they were being shot at,” adding that their grandchild didn’t know what to do or how to respond.

The grandparent told CNN that their child “froze” during the demonstration.

“Other children were diving on the floor and trying to get under furniture, whatever they could do to get out of the situation,” the grandparent told them.

The Burlington Police Department said it “apologizes to any students in attendance who were upset by the specific scenario and crime scene portion of the presentation.”

A representative for Burlington Mayor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak also told CNN that parents and students were angry after the demonstration.

Mayor Mulvaney-Stanak said in a statement to CNN that she apologizes “for the harm and suffering this incident has caused to Burlington High School students – students who have tragically grown up in a society where gun violence, including at school, has become commonplace.”

The mayor said she hopes the school district and police “will take responsibility for the harm caused and be self-reflective about all the ways this should have been handled differently and that this will not be repeated in the future.”

School officials hosted a “restorative circle” on Friday for students and teachers to share their thoughts about the incident, according to an email sent to parents and students.

The 15-year-old student told CNN that teachers and police officers were present, but he felt like police “weren’t directly holding themselves accountable.”

CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe contributed to this report.

The CNN Wire
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