Teachers and students at St Jago High School in Spanish Town, St Catherine, were forced to seek refuge in the school’s auditorium after gunmen ran through the school compound in a bid to escape from the police.
In light of the incident, classes were suspended and the school’s emergency plan was activated.
Head of the St Catherine North Police Division Senior Superintendent Beau Rigabi told the Observer that the incident occurred about 10:00 am. “My understanding is that prior to entering the school they fired shots in the Rivoli area (near the school) in a bid to avoid police that were advancing into that space,” Rigabi said, adding that the gunmen entered and exited the school by jumping the perimeter wall.
Rigabi said that the incident followed Wednesday night’s shooting death of 27-year-old Dane Smith on Old Market Street, which is also in the vicinity of the school. However, he could not say if both incidents were related.
Physical education (PE)teacher Donna Usherwood, who was on the track field with students when the incident occurred, described it as frightening.
“Myself and another PE teacher and about 20 students were on the field when we heard about three shots. Everyone started running, and then we heard about four more. On our way over we saw men coming over the fence and the students were crying and screaming,” she said.
Usherwood added that, although she was frightened, she ensured that the students got to the auditorium, which is the designated safe area in the event of an emergency.
Principal Collette Feurtado Pryce said after she was alerted by the teachers and students about the incident she immediately activated the school’s emergency plan.
“During that process we called the police and they advised us to stay on the campus until they gave us clearance to leave,” Feurtado Pryce said, adding that the police arrived shortly afterwards and addressed the students and staff, who were all gathered in the auditorium.
She said that the school, which has approximately 1,720 students on register, was given safety clearance at 2:00 pm, 40 minutes before the usual dismissal time. The principal also said she was unsure if the school would resume today.
“I can’t say that we are safe, because the men were able to jump the wall and come over. I’m hoping the Ministry of Education will pay attention to us now because we are having issues with our perimeter fencing. It needs to be heightened. As it is now, anyone can scale the fence and come into the school,” the principal said.
She added that the issue with the perimeter fencing was featured in an Education Inspectorate Report done in 2014; however, it has not been addressed.
Dean of Discipline Robert Lewis was seen encouraging students to head straight home.
“The school is a central place in the Rivoli area, and as such persons use it as a bypass to enter or exit another side of the community,” he said while pointing at gaping holes in the wall of one side of the school, which is surrounded by foliage.
“We had put up fencing to separate the students from venturing over the wall or through the holes, but it still needs to be heightened,” he said.