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Student Behaviors Prompt Arrest in Galloway Twp., Investigation in Absegami

"Because of the Connecticut shooting, there’s a lot of sensitivity,” said Steven Ciccariello, superintendent of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District.

The investigation and subsequent arrest of a 16-year-old Cedar Creek High School student from Galloway Township came after a teacher observed “hand drawn pictures of weapons in the student’s notebook,” Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Ciccariello said Wednesday morning.

“It didn’t look good to her,” Ciccariello said. “It was the perfect implementation of what our staff is trained to do. If they see any warning signs, they are to report it to school officials, and that’s what she did.”

Galloway Township Police were called to the school, and an ensuing investigation of the student’s home uncovered electronic parts and chemicals that, when mixed together, could cause an explosion, police said Dec. 18.

The student is currently being held in Harborfields Juvenile Detention Center. Police and K9 units from various municipalities joined the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office in a sweep of the school Tuesday, but found nothing.

Cedar Creek remained open on Wednesday. A message was sent out to parents on Wednesday morning, alerting them of the situation. According to Ciccariello, parents were not alerted Tuesday night because there was no incident at the school, and the investigation continued late into the night.

“I was on the phone until 11 p.m., and by the time parents received phone messages, it would’ve been midnight, 1 in the morning,” Ciccariello said. “I didn’t think that was the best thing, especially since the message was that everything is fine at Cedar Creek High School.”

Details concerning the student and possible disciplinary action are not being released due to the student’s age.

“School officials will make a decision in accordance with our code of conduct, and consult with law enforcement officials, because there are charges involved,” Ciccariello said.

Ciccariello also didn’t release the identity of the teacher who observed the drawings and alerted officials. Attempts to reach Cedar Creek Principal James Reina were unsuccessful Wednesday morning.

Ciccariello did note the administration and staff implemented district protocols perfectly, and were praised by Galloway Police for it.

“I’m proud as the superintendent that our staff responded the way they did,” Ciccariello said.

Staff at all three schools, including Cedar Creek, Absegami and Oakcrest, are watchful in the days following last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

On Wednesday morning, Galloway Police were at Absegami conducting another investigation.

“That was a response to rumors on Facebook,” Ciccariello said. “It was brought to the attention of Galloway Police first. One parent or group contacted them and Galloway Police contacted Absegami. They were on the property this morning to conduct an investigation. Because of the Connecticut shooting, there’s a lot of sensitivity.”

"After looking into it, the rumor appears to be just a rumor," Galloway Police Chief Patrick Moran said via email on Wednesday. "However, the school and the PD are working together to ensure that the school continues to be safe and secure."

Ciccariello didn’t say there was any overreaction in this case, but he did say there was no problem at Absegami this morning. He was unable to elaborate due to the ongoing investigation.

Like the Galloway Township School District, the Greater Egg Harbor Regional schools are reviewing their security measures, and administration will be meeting with law enforcement officials for suggestions on how to improve what they are already doing, and what they can begin to do that they aren’t doing at this point.

Some security measures all three schools already employ include:

  • cameras inside and outside each school;
  • one armed school resource officer in each building;
  • a lobby guard that runs the identification of each visitor to each school;
  • proximity card readers for staff members, who must swipe their cards before gaining access to the building; and
  • security officers at each school 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Ciccariello said that all three schools were already counseling students following last Friday’s shooting in Connecticut, and that no additional measures were needed at Cedar Creek.

“At no point was anyone in danger at the school,” Ciccariello said. “We’re just going to continue to do what we’re doing.”

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