December 17, 2018

Hunnewell Field gun incident left the high school and the town unsettled

Becky Miller ’20, Soo Kyeong Kim ’19, Haley Wexelblatt ’20, Bailey Doe ’20, Max Tracey ’19, Christopher Bonis ’19, with additional reporting from The Bradford staff

On September 5, a firearm was found on Hunnewell Field along the Crosstown Trail, causing some uneasiness among the community. Photo by Kate Waisel.

The Wellesley and Dedham Police Bureau for Criminal Investigation officers arrested Matthew Bradley, 27, in Dedham on the morning of September 12. His arrest on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm, improper storage of a firearm, and unlawful possession of ammunition, were traced back to the incident at Hunnewell Field last week.

Principal Jamie Chisum reported the news of the semi-automatic firearm that was found on Hunnewell Field on the afternoon of September 5 over the loudspeaker during advisory the following morning, leaving many students, including Allona Yehiav 22, unsettled.

“Some kids in our advisory were very surprised, almost excited. Some others expressed anxiety, while other students were unmoved by the statement,” said Yehiav.I was confused. Not scared, just confused. Why would someone leave a gun in the middle of a field?”

According to the Wellesley Police Department’s (WPD) initial press release, the discovery of the gun did not serve as a threat to the school community. Upon notifying the school’s administration, however, the police department increased their presence at the high school the following two days “out of an abundance of caution” due to the close proximity of Hunnewell Field to the high school.

Although Elizabeth McMahan, a high school parent, believes the handling of this event was blown out of proportion, she appreciated the police presence.

“I think it’s better to be safe, and I would rather be more cautious. I like the Wellesley Police presence at the high school when something like this occurs,” said McMahan.

Parent Wendy Kahn also brought up a question that, though pondered by many, was not answered until many days after the initial incident: why did the high school’s administration wait until the morning after the incident to alert students and faculty?

“At first I was surprised that we didn’t hear about it the day that it happened, but then I found out that they weren’t allowed to let us know because there was an ongoing investigation,” Kahn said.

Chisum was later able to answer this question for students.

“We could have been obstructing justice if we had put something out. Even with the best of intentions, we can’t do that. We had to trust our partners at the police department,” Chisum said.

Dr. David Lussier, Wellesley Public Schools Superintendent, added that it was not the school’s place to share information of the incident so soon after it occurred because the gun was found off of school property.

“It’s not something that we were investigating. It was found on town property and the police were actively involved in investigating that, but as a courtesy call, and given that there might be questions given that the Hunnewell Fields are not that far from the high school, we wanted to make sure people were aware of it,” Lussier said.

Many student athletes expressed concern and discomfort with the close proximity of the gun to the school.

“It was especially scary to think that we ran by this bag on our warm-up without noticing it just hours early,” said cross country captain Bennett Macdougall ’19. “It is very frightening to think about retrospectively.”

Girls’ cross country coach Cassie Short, also a teacher at the middle school, said she was thankful that it was an adult, and not one of her athletes, that discovered the bag containing the firearm.

“I think we’ll just keep our due diligence and try to make sure everyone is safe and they know the rules of running off school property and that these things can happen. We’ll keep an eye out,” she said.

Chuck Bognanni, a student supervisor, thought that the finding of the gun was an isolated incident.

“I have complete faith in the law enforcement of Wellesley,” said Bognanni.

For other students, like Sadhana Mandala ’20, the issue reminded her of the relevance of gun control and violence in the rest of the country. As a student speaker at the school’s walkout in March, Mandala felt very strongly about reminding the student body of the high school that gun violence still remains as a national issue.

“We [in Wellesley] talked about it when it happened in Parkland, we had the walkout, but after that we never took any definitive measures to bring awareness to the school and I thought this was a reality check that this is still a problem and it’s not just in Florida, it can be in Wellesley,” Mandala said.

As discussion continued within the school, many individuals questioned what further steps should be taken within the high school to maintain a safe academic environment for students, faculty, and staff. Chisum stated the difficulty in planning what steps should be taken next.

It is an unanswerable question in some ways,” Chisum said. “There are an infinite number of ways to try to make this school more secure. We could put metal detectors up, eliminate senior and junior passes, we could put gates up around the outside of the property. How far do we want to go? What does that do to our culture? What does that do to the experience of being a student in this community? What does the community want for itself?”

As of now, the plan for training students on active shooter protocol has not changed.

“We made a dramatic step forward last year doing our first active training with everyone and doing a very intense training with staff. We are continuing that this year,” said Chisum. “We feel like we are doing really good things to keep the kids safe. I would never feel comfortable saying I feel that we have it completely down, I’m always open to conversations. Really caring for each other is what keeps us the safest. We’re not perfect in that area, either, we have work to do. But it’s important to keep working in that direction.”

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