Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS
A police van outside Forest Hills High School on March 15.

In response to the shooting threat that sent Forest Hills High School into a lockdown on March 15, the administration held an impromptu meeting that evening to fully explain the situation to parents, and revealed that two threats were actually received.

The first was received the previous day, when one-third of the student body participated in the National Walkout Day in support of the 17 shooting victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Principal Ben Sherman explained to the crowd of about 100 people at the meeting that a note scribbled onto a desk was discovered on March 14 that suggested a student was thinking about shooting up the school. The note was investigated internally, but the faculty couldn’t figure out who wrote it or when it had been written, so the desk was simply removed.

The following day, a new note appeared in the same classroom on a new desk in the same handwriting, Sherman said.

The second note was much more specific. It acknowledged the removal of the first note and suggested that a gun was hidden inside a locker in the locker room, and that’s what prompted the school to contact the NYPD and activate the lockdown procedures.

“I take the safety of your children very seriously,” Sherman said to the crowd as he explained the timeline. “My number one concern every day is that everyone goes home safely at the end of the day, and after we establish safety, the we can have space for learning.”

By coincidence, Sherman said, the NYPD had selected Forest Hills to be the site of “random scanning” on the morning of March 15; all the students had to walk through metal detectors, and the second note was found later.

Sherman explained that he activated the building response team and teachers were told to continue teaching during the lockdown. The NYPD began investigating and brought dogs in to help search the school, Sherman said, but nothing was found. He added that 1,000 lockers were searched in the girls locker room and 700 were searched in the boys locker room; police stopped searching once a male student confessed. The student was subsequently taken into police custody.

Reportedly, Ishrak Hossain, 16, was charged with making a terroristic threat and criminal mischief. As of Friday, arraignment information was not available in court records.

According to Sherman, intelligence from other students led to a number of suspects, and the student who confessed had no record of previous incidents, was on track for graduation and on track for college. Sherman said it’s believed that the student did this to become more popular through Snapchat, believing other kids would see it and share it.

“That’s kind of a sickness that is going around with some of our teenagers about what popularity means and what friendship means,” Sherman said.

Later in the meeting, a parent spoke up and said that should not have been accepted as an excuse to write such a note, and someone should follow up to make sure that student receives counseling. Sherman responded that the student has been suspended, and is also facing charges from the NYPD. Sherman added that he will request that the student be transferred to another school, as New York City public schools are not allowed not to expel students.

The principal added that the NYPD obtained a warrant to search the student’s home.

Communication during the lockdown became one of the main sources of frustration for the parents at the meeting. Parents mostly heard about the incident from their children, who were allowed by teachers to text and call them to let them know. Yet, not having any official information from the school, the parents didn’t know how severe the incident was or how they should react.

It was reported that a message about the incident had been posted on the Forest Hills High School website as it was unfolding, but that it had been removed later. There is presently a message about the incident present on the site again.

In fact, it became clear that very few people inside the building knew any of the details when one student spoke up later in the meeting. She became emotional as she described the feeling of being locked inside a room with a view of the courtyard, where police vehicles kept pulling up over and over again.

At one point during the lockdown, she said, there was a bang on the door of her classroom and the teacher instructed the students to get to the back of the room because the teacher also had no idea what was going on.

“I understand waiting to say something, but you can’t expect students to sit in the back of a classroom like sardines and wait when they don’t know, because it’s not a fun thing to sit through,” the student said.

There were also disagreements about whether or not the school should have metal detectors installed. Some parents believe it’s becoming more necessary, while Sherman and other parents believe it would be degrading to make students turn over their belongings every single day.

Still, many parents did commend Sherman for handling the situation to the best of his ability, and he urged parents to help him make the changes his school needs. At a building with 4,000 students, Sherman said, there are only nine safety officers and not nearly enough security cameras.

If parents write to the DOE and express the need for more safety measures, he said, the school is more likely to get them.

Student assemblies were scheduled for March 16 to make all students aware of the facts and discuss why students should not spread dangerous notes, Sherman added.

Robert Pozarycki contributed to this report.


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