VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — What was supposed to be a happy day for students and parents at Salem High School turned tragic Thursday when a student was found dead inside a school bathroom. Investigators have determined the student died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“I’m shocked and I’m saddened,” said parent Demond Smith.
It was just after 8 a.m. when the school went into lockdown. There were 200 parents at the school for “A Day in the Sun,” a program that gives parents the opportunity to shadow their kids.
Officials with Virginia Beach City Public Schools initially said Thursday morning that the school was placed on lockdown due to a medical emergency. Police responded to the school for a cardiac arrest call.
Principal Matt Delaney sent an updated message to parents Friday.
Good morning Salem High School parents.
This is principal Matt Delaney calling to reassure you that our students and staff are working diligently to keep the focus on instruction today. Several students have taken the opportunity to meet with counselors and other students are being encouraged to share their feelings as needed. I do want to let you know that as a result of the police investigation, officers have now confirmed to us that the student’s death was due to an intentional act committed by the victim, and was the result of a gunshot wound. We have no reason to believe that the student had any intent to harm others. However, as you know, we have safety measures in place for these types of incidents and placed our school on lockdown yesterday. Our school remains a safe place for our students to learn and grow.
While I know this information may be unsettling, I want you hear it from me rather than through the media. And, I appreciate your understanding that we could not share more information with you yesterday during the active police investigation. We love your children as our own and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety. Thank you for your understanding and your continued thoughts and prayers for the victim’s family and our Salem High School family.”
“We were in my son’s drama class and they come on to the announcement that we were on an internal lockdown,” Smith added. “When they first said that the school was going on an internal lockdown all the kids kind of went into panic mode like ‘oh my God, what’s going on?'”
Most inside didn’t know the answer. Rumors began to spread and those parents who weren’t at school already rushed to find out.
“I just got a text message from my daughter saying the school was on lockdown and we can’t get in and they can’t get out,” said parent Henry Pounder.
Rescue crews rushed to the school and found a teenage boy dead in one of the school’s bathrooms.
“We heard this loud bang in the hallway,” added a Salem High sophomore. “At first everybody thought it was a chair that had fallen over, but it was much louder than that.”
Pulley was in the classroom across from the bathroom. She says that sound was a gun shot.
“My teacher was telling us there is a stretcher going into the bathroom,” Pulley said. “It’s really sad,” Pulley added. “I don’t know who it is, so at the moment, I don’t know if I know them or not so it’s a bit worrying.”
“I don’t understand how he had a gun,” added Smith. “Why was there a gun in the school and not really understanding why he shot himself? It is just sad.”
School ended at noon and we’re told grief counselors will be on hand the rest of the week.
Lots to process
A day after a Salem High School student killed himself at school there is still so much to process.
“This kid brought a gun to school,” said Gary Rotfus, a clinical social worker. “It is really scary. Anything tragic like that which happens is going to reverberate throughout the whole school.”
Rotfus has spent decades working with teenagers. He’s heard of suicide, but never in a school.
“It is very unfortunate for the entire community,” Rotfus said. “Something was obviously going on whether or not people saw warning signs,” Rotfus added.
Rotfus says it’s hard sometimes to tell if something is wrong with a teenager, but parents need to keep a lookout for some signs.
“Typically what I tell parents is look for dramatic changes in their child’s personality or behavior,” Rotfus said. “They should notice if that a child is not sleeping enough or sleeping too much. Also notice there is more moodiness than usual.”
Parents still want to know how a gun got into the school.
“You send your child in the morning as a routine day and there is somebody in school with a gun, so there has to be a lot of mixed feelings on parenting,” Rotfus added.
School officials say they are routinely reviewing safety measures and practices throughout the year, and especially after a crisis or incident at a school. At this time, metal detectors are not being used or planned in the schools.
“We are extremely saddened today,” said Delaney on Thursday. “It is something we never want to have occur at any situation.”
Principal Delaney sent an initial message on Thursday about the student’s death.
Good morning, Salem High School parents.
This is Principal Matt Delaney calling with an update to today’s external lockdown. I want to let you know that police are investigating the death of an individual student at our school. Officers tell us that no foul play is suspected and police are not looking for a suspect. While the external lockdown continues, we are making plans for an early departure for all students by 12:00 p.m. today. Students will be offered a bag lunch as they exit the building. Bus transportation will be provided and dismissal will occur as usual. There is no need for parents to pick their children up at the school, unless this is your typical practice. In addition, all afterschool activities here at Salem High School are cancelled today. I appreciate your continued patience and understanding. This is a sad day for our Salem community. Please know that counselors are at the school now and will continue to be available in the days ahead. Thank you.