Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fireworks mistaken for gunfire at Hillsborough High draw big police response

TAMPA — Up to 75 Tampa police officers answered a report of gunshots fired inside Hillsborough High School shortly before classes let out Thursday.

A police helicopter buzzed overhead. A Tampa Fire Rescue engine and rescue vehicle set up out front. Students were held in their classrooms. A bomb-sniffing dog was brought out.

There were no gunshots — only fireworks ignited in a hallway.

But the response was a glimpse of the reaction authorities would bring to a school shooting here.

"Everybody's on edge right now," school district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. "I think even if we weren't living post-Sandy Hook, people still would have responded like that, but it was comforting.

"To see that you get such a quick response, that gives you a lot more confidence if something does happen."

A student who police said lit the fireworks was arrested on charges that include inciting a riot.

Thursday's incident came more than a month after the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which prompted a national discussion of gun laws and school security policies.

In the aftermath, Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia proposed a plan to put armed guards in all of the county's elementary schools, which the School Board later rejected. Similar plans have been discussed, but not implemented, by elected officials in Pinellas and Hernando counties.

What effectively became an impromptu school shooting drill for local authorities began about 2:20 p.m. when a caller to 911 reported gunshots inside the school at 5000 N Central Ave. near Seminole Heights.

According to a chronology released by Tampa police, the school resource officer started searching for the source of the noise, and by 2:24 p.m. was joined by dozens of police officers, who searched the school floor by floor.

Tampa Fire Rescue units arrived at 2:25 p.m. and set up a staging area.

At 2:26 p.m, officers found evidence fireworks had been set off in the southwest portion of the school. At 2:30 p.m., a bomb-sniffing dog searched the building for any additional explosives.

The official number of officers responding was 53, but Assistant Chief John Bennett said it was closer to 75, including those who didn't have time to check in before entering the school.

"This is something that put a lot of people in danger for something that we wouldn't consider a prank," Bennett said. "It was a crime."

Police arrested a 17-year-old student afterward and took her to the Hillsborough County Juvenile Assessment Center on charges of inciting a riot and tampering with evidence.

She was caught on school surveillance video setting off the fireworks, police said. A teacher identified her and when questioned, police said, she admitted the crime. State records do not show any past arrests of her.

The lockdown of the school ended about 4 p.m. — letting students out of school for the day about an hour later than usual.

Will Hobson can be reached at whobson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3400.

Fireworks mistaken for gunfire at Hillsborough High draw big police response 01/24/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 11:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. James Wilder Jr. back at running back...in Canada

    Blogs

    Remember when former Plant High star and Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. announced he was switching to linebacker?

    That was short-lived, apparently.

  2. Unlicensed contractor accused of faking death triggers policy change at Pinellas construction licensing board

    Local Government

    The unlicensed contractor accused of faking his death to avoid angry homeowners has triggered an immediate change in policy at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  3. What you need to know for Tuesday, June 27

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Former St. Petersburg mayor and current mayoral candidate Rick Baker, left, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman square off tonight in a debate. [Times]
  4. Once 'angry' about Obamacare, Republican David Jolly came to see it as 'safety net'

    Blogs

    Former Congressman David Jolly, who ran against Obamacare in 2013, said in an interview Monday night that he now considers it a "safety net."

  5. Five children hospitalized after chlorine release at Tampa pool store

    Accidents

    Five children were sickened at a pool store north of Tampa on Monday after a cloud of chlorine was released, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.