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School board president asks for financial support for armed guards in wake of threat

ALLENTOWN – Patricia Hogan, the president of the Upper Freehold Regional School District Board of Education, made an impassioned plea at the June 12 meeting of the Allentown Borough Council.

Speaking to the borough’s elected officials several hours after police officers rushed to the district’s schools in Allentown and Upper Freehold Township in response to a threat, Hogan said, “Today was a reminder about why there is a sense of urgency” to improve security at Allentown High School, Newell Elementary School and Stone Bridge Middle School.

Hogan said that at 12:20 p.m., the Allentown Police Department received a call from an individual who said they were going to start shooting at Allentown High School in five minutes. She said students and staff members at all three schools in the district were placed on lockdown as Allentown police officers and New Jersey State Troopers descended on the buildings.

No suspect was arrested, no devices were located and no incidents occurred at any of the buildings, Hogan said, adding that the matter remains under investigation.

Hogan said board members recently voted to hire Class III special law enforcement officers (retired police officers) and assign them to the district’s buildings beginning in September and she asked the council members for financial support in that endeavor.

Officials said one option that may be investigated would be to have active Allentown police officers handle the school assignments, as opposed to hiring Class III officers.

Hogan said the school board is facing a deadline in early July to put the security plan in place for September.

“We will have armed security in our buildings next fall. A parent whose child is being taken out on a gurney is not going to give a rat’s behind about who is getting along with each other,” Hogan said, referring to the relationship among the school district and the communities that send students to the high school: Allentown, Upper Freehold and Millstone Township.

Hogan said the Township Committee in Upper Freehold has appropriated $50,000 in its municipal budget to pay for armed officers in the schools. School district administrators are waiting to hear if Millstone Township and Allentown will also pledge financial support.

Children of high school age who live in Millstone Township attend Allentown High School through a send-receive relationship between the Millstone Township K-8 School District and the Upper Freehold Regional School District.

Council President Thomas Fritts said a meeting was scheduled and would include representatives of the police department, the chief financial officer, public safety representatives and elected officials who would discuss how Allentown may be able to assist the school district.

Acting Superintendent of Schools Mark Guterl said in a June 12 letter to parents that at 12:25 p.m., “the Allentown Police Department informed Allentown High School administration it had received a threat to the school via their police dispatch. District administration and the police department immediately initiated a precautionary lockdown with the assistance of the New Jersey State Police.

“Additionally, Newell Elementary School and Stone Bridge Middle School started their lockdown procedures as a precaution. All students remained safe throughout the entire situation until the police gave us the ‘all clear.’ … We appreciate all of the support and guidance we received from both the Allentown Police Department and the New Jersey State Police and commend our staff and students for conducting themselves precisely as they have practiced throughout the past school year.”

On June 13, Allentown Police Detective Anthony Rando provided the following review of the incident, saying, “The call came via the police dispatch line around 12:20 p.m. June 12. The caller with an accent (unknown to me what gender) stated to dispatch, ‘Someone was walking into the Allentown High School in five minutes and going to shoot everyone.’

“As a precautionary measure, our dispatch advised Allentown, Pa., police of this as well. Allentown High School, Newell Elementary School and Stone Bridge Middle School were all immediately placed on lockdown. Once all three schools were cleared for safety, the lockdown was called off.

“The Allentown Police Department, Homeland Security, the New Jersey State Police, Hamilton police and the Allentown First Aid Squad all responded. All schools were cleared for safety and nobody was hurt or injured,” Rando said.

The detective said the identity of the person who placed the call “is still under investigation and we believe so far it was a swatting type of call where telephone numbers/computer IP addresses are masked to conceal identity. … Allentown police entered both the high school and Newell Elementary School, clearing it for safety in accordance with our active shooter response plan.

“Once no threat was determined and all schools were deemed safe, the scene was released. The case is still under investigation and it is our goal to gain as much information as possible regarding the call that was placed to police dispatch,” Rando said.

On June 13, Hogan told the Examiner, “We are grateful for the response and assistance of the Allentown Police Department and the New Jersey State Police troopers and their diligence in securing our campuses and overseeing dismissals in every building” on June 12.

She said law enforcement personnel were also present in the school district on June 13.

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