Columbia High School Evacuated After Students Threw Firecrackers in D Wing

by Mary Barr Mann
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Update May 14, 2023: Per the Maplewood Police Blotter for the week or May 4-10, a 15-year-old student was charged with two counts of False Public Alarm, Disorderly Conduct, and Possession of Fireworks in a May 5 incident in which firecrackers where thrown into the D-wing during 9th period. Per MPD, the “juvenile was processed at Headquarters and transported to Essex County Youth House. No injuries were reported in this incident.” Read more here.

Columbia High School was evacuated on the afternoon of Friday, May 5 after students threw firecrackers into the D-wing at 2:20 p.m., causing loud exploding noises and haze. According to authorities, no one was injured. However, several students called 9-1-1, mistakenly reporting gunshots and prompting a response from the Maplewood police.

At 4:01 p.m., Maplewood Police sent a Nixle alert to the community that read: “Police activity at Columbia high school due to students playing with fireworks. A check of the school was negative for anyone injured.”

At 4:41 p.m., Columbia High School Principal Frank Sanchez shared a communication with Village Green (see below) describing the event. In response to questions from Village Green about whether or not codes were called and how information was communicated, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ronald Taylor responded, “Thank you for following up. From the school district’s perspective, we have shared all the information we are comfortable providing. When it comes to security discussions we have to be sure that we don’t provide information that makes us more vulnerable.”

One teacher who contacted told Village Green at 2:40 p.m. said that there was confusion in the school with a lack of communication regarding events. The teacher reported that the firecrackers sounded like multiple explosions from another floor of the school and that there was a significant police response at the school.

May 5, 2023

Dear CHS Families

Today during the period 9 conference period at 2:20 pm, a Columbia High School student threw a firecracker into the D-Wing causing students to run down that hall.

An adult present quickly ascertained that it was a firecracker and immediately let security know as well as the building principal. As they helped students in the D-wing, three students and staff in another wing called 911 using their cellphones that gunshots were fired in CHS.

The police were here within five minutes to investigate the situation. We evacuated the building out of an abundance of caution to check the video to ensure that it was only fireworks. As soon as the video confirmed that it was fireworks, all students and staff were welcomed back to school. 

At this point, we have debriefed with the police department to speak about our policies and protocols and we thank them for their partnership. We are also going through the video with the police and we are fairly confident we have identified the student who will face serious consequences.

We know this may have been a triggering experience for some of our students and staff. We will have additional counseling ready for students on Monday. We also encourage parents to speak with their children about this incident. We recommend using some of these resources we have curated after the most recent school shooting. 

We will be reaching out to students again later this weekend with more information.

Thank you, 

Frank Sanchez

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