NARRAGANSETT – A forgotten science project caused the evacuation of Pier Middle School Tuesday afternoon.
Narragansett Police Capt. Scott Perrin said Thursday that the police who were investigating the incident determined the “suspicious package” found around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, was merely a science experiment a student accidentally dropped the day before.
“There was no malicious intent,” Perrin said. “It wasn’t meant to scare anybody, it was just a big misunderstanding.”
When the package was first discovered Tuesday afternoon by a school employee, the principal made the decision to evacuate, Superintendent Katherine Sipala said Wednesday morning.
“At 1:32 p.m., Narragansett police and fire were called to the school and the evacuation was already underway,” she said. “By the time the police and fire departments got there, students from the school were already on the soccer field at the high school, the already identified place for evacuations.”
The Rhode Island State Bomb Squad and Hazardous Materials Team responded to the scene.
By 5 p.m. officials determined the package was not a threat and allowed the Pier School to re-open.
Sipala said the evacuation and notification processes went smoothly.
At the time emergency officials were called to the scene, the high school was nearing its dismissal time.
Sipala said the district cancelled after school activities and sports events at the high school and middle school.
“It seemed prudent not to have anyone on that campus at all, not in the yards, teams practicing, there was a soccer game scheduled and we didn’t want to be bringing people on to our campus if there was an investigation going on,” she said.
Once high school students and staff left, Sipala said the building was empty and after dropping off high school students, school buses returned to pick up the middle school students from the high school soccer field.
Sipala said middle school students arrived home around the same time they usually do, despite the incident.
She said she kept parents updated throughout the event. She made the first automated call at 2:20 p.m., instructing middle school parents to pick their children up at the high school because there had been an evacuation, but everyone was safe.
She made a second call at 4 p.m. to everyone in the school system, explaining what was known at the time and that the investigation was ongoing.
At 5 p.m., when the scene was cleared, another call was made letting teachers, students and parents know the school was safe.
Sipala said she also wrote an e-mail to the district’s listserv Wednesday morning. She said the faculty and staff would also debrief and evaluate how the district fared in its evacuation procedure.
“We’re back to normal,” Sipala said Wednesday. “It was precaution and thank goodness it wasn’t anything dangerous.”
She added, “Staff at that school is absolutely fabulous. They were praised by the police officers and firefighters for getting the kids out quickly.”
Sipala said the 450 students at the school had already practiced the evacuation drill this year.
“Everyone knew exactly where to go,” she said. “The procedures are so practiced that this did not create dissidence.”