October 8 – “Locks, Lights, Out of Sight.”
South Portland Excessive Faculty lecturers have been skilled within the district’s lockdown protocol in the event that they encounter a risk. However that did not cease the frenzy of adrenaline they felt on September 29, when phrase got here that they’d locked their doorways, turned off the lights and moved their college students to the nook of the room, the place they could be protected ought to the worst occur. .
For greater than an hour, lecturers and college students sat silently at the hours of darkness, checking their telephones for updates from the surface world. Finally, they discovered that the “suspicious particular person” arrested by police outdoors was a young person carrying a reproduction airsoft gun. They stated it wasn’t harmful however earlier than lecturers received the all-clear, it was onerous to not surprise if the threats that had been looming over the district since April have been lastly changing into a actuality.
A number of highschool lecturers, who spoke on the situation of anonymity for worry of their security and dropping their jobs, stated final Friday’s closure was simply the newest in a sequence of occasions which have rocked the neighborhood. School members say they’re annoyed with what they see because the district’s lack of transparency about the way it responded to pending felony prices towards Tristan Hamilton, a 17-year-old pupil who prosecutors say tried to recruit another person to assist kill college students and lecturers. And staff.
“It is worrying,” one instructor stated. “We’re all on edge.”
Prosecutors and college directors responded that they have been restricted in what juvenile legal guidelines allowed them to share.
“There’s nothing to see right here”
Though Hamilton’s id was not made public till months after a SWAT crew raided his house in April and seized a number of high-powered rifles, individuals at the highschool say they knew it was him nearly instantly. A number of lecturers stated they weren’t shocked to study he was the teenager who, based on South Portland Police Chief Dan Ahearn, had threatened to “trigger critical hurt to people and teams utilizing sure weapons.”
Hamilton is a gifted pupil, however describes himself as an outsider throughout the considerably liberal district, some lecturers stated. He’s recognized for making statements tinged with far-right rhetoric and for carrying an Iron Cross — an emblem worn by Nazi troopers that has since been co-opted by each white supremacists and bike teams. (He and his father experience bikes.)
His father, Adam Hamilton, was considerably infamous for a sequence of anti-Islam and anti-trans Fb posts that appeared throughout his failed run for college board in 2021. Adam Hamilton, who later stated the posts didn’t replicate his beliefs, was additionally arrested. Throughout April. A raid and he was charged with making an attempt to forestall the police from arresting him and his son.
Lecturers say they have been shaken when Ahern instructed NewsCenter Maine that police had doubtless stopped a violent assault locally. They hoped to study extra about what police consider Tristan Hamilton was planning in two digital conferences organized by Superintendent Tim Matheny just a little greater than every week after the raid.
As an alternative, a number of lecturers say, district management downplayed the threats in a method that appeared inconsistent with Ahearn’s statements. Matheny repeatedly stated that Hamilton was charged with arson (in an unrelated incident, courtroom information point out) and that nobody on the college was ever at risk. However this did not make sense to many lecturers — why would SWAT and the FBI get entangled if there have been no critical threats?
“He handled it as if individuals have been making up all these rumors and fear-mongering, and that we have been making all of it up,” one instructor stated.
Lecturers who spoke with the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram questioned why they weren’t alerted to a possible risk. If Hamilton was harmful sufficient to be arrested on Wednesday, was the college actually protected on Monday and Tuesday when he was in school? Others needed a assure that he wouldn’t be allowed again into the constructing. They have been annoyed when Matheny did not present concrete solutions.
“It was like, ‘There’s nothing to see right here in any respect,'” one other instructor stated. “You knew you have been being lied to.”
Matheny stated in a cellphone interview Thursday that his workplace did its greatest to maintain employees knowledgeable, however even he did not know a lot concerning the proof towards Hamilton due to legal guidelines that withhold most details about juvenile instances.
He stated he didn’t know all the circumstances of Hamilton’s launch, however police, prosecutors and District Choose Peter Darvin assured him the teenager didn’t at present pose a danger to the college. He stated legislation enforcement is legally required to inform college districts in the event that they consider there may be an imminent risk — a warning he stated his workplace didn’t obtain in April or at any time since.
“I do know the provision of data… has been irritating for many people,” Matheny stated. “However on the very least, our clear intention was to hear as rigorously and overtly to our staff as doable.”
However with out particular explanations about Hamilton’s prices, the circumstances of his launch, and why authorities are so assured he does not pose a risk, lecturers say they and their college students stay involved — particularly within the wake of a number of occasions final month.
The primary was a report within the Press Herald that named Hamilton and listed a brand new set of prices that prosecutors had introduced towards him: first-degree felony solicitation of homicide and one other rely of arson, together with a much less terrifying cost. All college students, school and employees are listed as potential targets. That is the primary official affirmation that authorities consider Hamilton was planning an assault on the college.
Supervisor Scott Tumbleson instructed employees in an e-mail shared with the newspaper that he was “disturbed” by the information. However lecturers say the wording rang hole after district management spent the spring downplaying their issues.
At an emergency employees assembly the morning the brand new prices have been introduced, lecturers stated some employees have been visibly indignant with Matheny and Tombelson, who they noticed as extra all for controlling the narrative than supporting lecturers.
One instructor remembers considering: “We’re about to go train children in an hour after they’ve simply learn the phrase ‘homicide’ in a headline.” “I feel we want to have the ability to discuss this on a human stage.”
Tensions escalated once more on Sept. 27 when Hamilton rode his bike close to a bunch of scholars who have been strolling outdoors to attend gymnasium class, then returned and tried to speak to a pupil at Pink’s Dairy Freeze, based on a number of lecturers who later discovered of the incident. . They stated Hamilton sped off after a instructor requested him to depart the group.
Mark Peltier, considered one of Hamilton’s attorneys, stated the teenager acquired an invite to go to Reeds from a pal and left when he realized she was with a bunch of scholars.
“As with a lot of this case, what the general public was led to consider and what truly occurred are very far aside,” he stated. “Sadly, this case has been the topic of a lot hypothesis and hearsay. Tristan by no means posed a hazard to anybody, and that is still the case as we speak.”
Nonetheless, information of the encounter shortly unfold amongst college students and employees, a lot of whom assumed the teenager wouldn’t be free to roam the streets through the college day. If he can go to the Reds, what’s to cease him from carrying a hoodie and sneaking into college?
Many lecturers say these ideas have been working via their heads as they sat in lockdown two days later. Police later stated the coed arrested through the Sept. 29 lockdown had no connection to Hamilton.
“We do our greatest”
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jackie Sartoris declined to disclose the precise phrases of Hamilton’s launch.
She instructed a reporter final week that though she is free to share that data with the victims named within the case — all college students, lecturers and employees at South Portland Excessive Faculty, in addition to dad and mom of scholars beneath 18 — juvenile privateness legal guidelines forestall her from doing so. . And focus on it instantly with different members of the general public.
Nonetheless, this data was not extensively shared with victims both. Lecturers who spoke with the newspaper stated the one hints they’d about Hamilton’s launch circumstances got here in a handful of emails the district shared.
Hours after the incident at Reeds, Matheny wrote in an e-mail to employees that he and the district lawyer would stress prosecutors to strengthen protections towards Hamilton.
“As a district, now we have a proper to the type of studying surroundings that you just and our college students deserve, and our attorneys will clearly argue that tomorrow,” he wrote.
A letter Sartoris despatched to school, employees and college students the following day specified that Hamilton was prohibited from being on college property.
She wrote that her workplace pushed for Hamilton to be detained on the Lengthy Creek Youth Growth Middle, however the decide allowed his launch. Prosecutors will once more search to detain him, or a minimum of prohibit him from approaching the highschool and contacting college students, school and employees concerned in off-campus college actions throughout college hours, Sartoris stated.
Sartoris stated she sympathizes with college employees and annoyed dad and mom, however stated Matheny and his crew had little details about the small print of the case from its starting. She added that the prosecution couldn’t have offered any particulars earlier with out violating privateness legal guidelines, which may have jeopardized the result of the case.
“We’re all doing the perfect we will in a scenario we didn’t create,” she stated. “I utterly perceive that it is a supply of large frustration for the neighborhood. We simply need to be very cautious to by no means jeopardize the prospects of this case.”
Hamilton is predicted to make his first look in Portland Juvenile Court docket on October 19 at 8:30 a.m. The listening to shall be public, and prosecutors will ask the decide to permit distant entry to the courtroom in order that members of the college neighborhood who’re in worry can attend for his or her security with out revealing their identities to the defendant.
Sartoris stated the proof towards Hamilton will ultimately be heard.
In the meantime, South Portland lecturers say they are going to proceed to attempt to placed on a courageous face for college students, at the same time as they grapple with the worry that Matheny and Sartoris agree has turn out to be all too widespread in American lecture rooms.
One instructor stated: “I do not need to be dramatic, however (instructing) may be very tough on a simple day. Going to high school and considering you may die makes the day just a little tougher.” “However hey, study your calculus. None of this provides up.”