Two gun scares at Valley Stream 13 pose no threat, police say, but questions linger.


While Valley Stream District 13 has focused intently on school safety in recent years, two instances, less than four weeks apart, occurred in which individuals were spotted in or around school grounds carrying guns.

For parents in the village and across the country, the thought of guns anywhere near their children has been an enormous source of anxiety and dread. 

While the gun-wielders were deemed by police to be non-threatening, parents were reportedly kept in the dark about what went on during both gun scares and in the days immediate following them, something Board of Education Tustee Anthony Bonelli says never should have happened.

“It’s shocking that parents weren’t notified,” he said. “It’s unconscionable.”

In a written statement, Superintendent Judith LaRocca projected an image of competence in handling the situations, tacitly warning against overreaction and reassuring the community of the district’s unwavering seriousness about protecting students from threats to their safety. 

“The security and safety of our students and staff are always our first priority,” LaRocca said. “The district strictly followed its safety and security protocols in both situations.”

What happened on election day?

It was an otherwise routine Election Day when, at around 1:30 p.m., a security guard at the Howell Road School eyed a man who had asked to use the bathroom and shortly left the building with “what appeared to be a weapon.” Surveillance footage allegedly captured the man pulling up the hem of his shirt, exposing a gun strapped to his pants.

Once a police sergeant arrived at school as part of the department’s routine rounds, the security guard informed the sergeant of what he had seen but supposedly did not call 911 moments after it happened. Once an investigation had been opened, the district turned over surveillance footage to law enforcement of the man in question, which police later identified as one of their own — an active-duty police officer who had “simply stopped at the school to vote before proceeding to work.”

But the details of the incident, noted Bonelli, weren’t as clear or obvious in the immediate aftermath. As questions rolled in from unnerved trustees hours after the episode, Bonelli and the board initially sifted through conflicting reports from the superintendent regarding the man’s motive — whether he had come to the school to vote or not — and unanswered questions as to his reasons — whether deliberate or not — for flashing a gun in the open. 

Never were students or residents in any real or present danger, argued Superintendent LaRocca. Classes were not held that day and security was on hand to monitor the building.

For Bonelli, that justification isn’t good enough.

“The fact that there were no children in school on Election Day is not an excuse,” he said. “An armed person could simply be casing the place, did not know that children were not in school, and could have decided to come back the next day.”

The unvetted accessibility to school grounds offered to dozens of individuals during election season continues to raise unwelcome questions. But it remains to be seen whether school districts will step up security or tighten accessibility to the building while, at the same time, balancing concerns about intimidating voters.

A gun-toting grandpa?

In the school’s second gun scare this year, an armed man was spotted stalking the outskirts of Willow Road Elementary School on Oct 13. The school notified the police, according to LaRocca. The man, identified as a retired police officer and a grandparent of one of the students, was seemingly on edge and concerned that day for the safety of his grandchild during what school officials described as “a potential worldwide threat.”

This most likely refers to the Hamas-Israel war, in which, days after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, Israeli officials warned of a Hamas-incited “Day of Rage.” The specter of violence in the form of threats against Jewish Americans and synagogues sent jolts of fear through Jewish communities, and police departments across the country were on high alert.

After sizing up the situation, officers simply asked the man to leave. No arrests were made or summonses written, and he left without protest. The district, however, would not say how long it took for the district to identify the gun-carrying grandfather outside Willow nor how long it took for police to respond to the incident.

However, the superintendent, assuaging doubts, assured that everything that was supposed to work concerning the district’s multi-layered “security and safety protocols” functioned without fail. Again, Bonelli reiterated that any situation that even hints at the possibility of students being put in peril by the presence of guns should have been promptly notified to parents.

LaRocca neither confirmed nor denied that the district was quick to alert parents about either gun scare but said that the district has open lines of communication with parents and uses them constantly to keep them in the loop about what’s going on in the district.

Despite the superintendent’s reticence to divulge further information, a security memo obtained from the Herald suggests she refused to disclose information to the public on account of following recommendations from police officials. The district eventually briefed parents on the gun ordeal in an email sent on Nov. 14 before News12 broke the story hours later.

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