An Alexandria City Police Department school resource officer at George Washington Middle School discharged a firearm inside his first floor office at the school on Tuesday morning, March 13. No one was injured, no alarms went off and classes resumed after all students were found safe. The bullet found its way into a seventh grade history classroom and struck a refrigerator, which "exploded," according to multiple sources.
Alexandria Police Chief Mike Brown deemed the incident an accident and said that the officer was embarrassed. He did not elaborate on the standard operating procedure for school resource officers, such as if a bullet should be in the chamber of their service firearm and the safety turned off during school hours.
"We will be releasing the results of the investigation once they've been reviewed by the Commonwealth Attorney. We will be totally transparent, and on behalf of the APD we apologize for any inconvenience," Brown said at a community meeting at the T.C. Williams High School Minnie Howard campus on Tuesday night. "As I understand it, this officer loves what he does and cares deeply about the kids ... I can only imagine how embarrassed he might be and some of the ribbing he might be getting from his colleagues."
The officer, a five-year police veteran, was in his office when the shot was fired at approximately 9:10 a.m. The officer was put on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
ACPS interim superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin said that the school day continued as planned and that it was a "good thing" that the entire school was not aware that the discharge occurred.
"We don't ever want this to happen again," Berlin said. "There has never been an incident like this."
ACPS would not comment on the incident and directed questions to the police department. Brown confirmed at the community meeting that the bullet went through the wall of a classroom, and according to a police department news release, the officer "immediately checked for potential injuries in the area," and then alerted his supervisor and school staff.
"We had crime scene investigators in there to find out specifically where the round went," said Alexandria Police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal.
Parents were notified of the incident by email at 10:30 a.m. — an hour and 20 minutes after the shot was fired.
Mayor Allison Silberberg expressed concern and said that the safety of Alexandria students is paramount.
"I have great confidence in Police Chief Mike Brown in determining what happened," she said. "The officer is on administrative leave, pending investigation, which is standard. I have spoken at length with Chief Brown as well as School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin and City Manager Mark Jinks, and I will be talking with the School Board and the Council as we examine options for protecting our children."
Alexandria City Public Schools have had armed school resource officers for over 25 years, and a replacement officer has already been brought into GW.
"This is a frightening incident for the students and families of George Washington Middle," Alexandria Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said. "I look forward to the results of the APD investigation to determine what occurred and how it can be prevented in the future."
GW Principal Jesse Mazur sent students home with a letter explaining what happened and asking parents that they talk to their children about the incident.
"Children react differently to these kinds of situations," Mazur wrote. "We will be checking in on students throughout this week and next to ensure they are supported. The safety of our students and staff is always our top priority."
City Councilor John Chapman said that the school resource officer program should be eliminated.
"I think today's incident is a close-to-home example of why expanding the SRO program to have them stationed at elementary schools is an idea that needs to be immediately thrown out as we look for security enhancements at our schools," he said.
Dak Hardwick, who is running for the Democratic nomination to the City Council, said that the incident will help the city determine choices about access to firearms in Alexandria schools.
"While this appears to be an isolated incident, it further illustrates the need for our community to come together and decide the best way forward for our city," he said.
Alexandria Police directives stipulate that, "Except for general maintenance, supervisory inspections, storage, transferring to or from an off-duty holster, or authorized training; employees shall not draw or exhibit firearms without justifiable cause," and that, "Handguns will only be loaded or unloaded inside of the Police Headquarters building in the arsenal and only with use of the clearing chamber, unless by direction of a Supervisor ...."