Wicomico County Sheriff’s investigators will review security footage at James M. Bennett High School to determine if more arrests are required after a fight broke out Wednesday morning.
Six Bennett students were arrested following the 11 a.m. skirmage, which continued so long that officials had to use pepper spray to deter the combatants.
Rumors concerning the details of the altercation were flying around Salisbury early Wednesday afternoon. While witnesses said the altercation was serious and punches were thrown between six or eight students, the tensions were between specific group and there was no “rioting” at the school.
According to Lt. Tim Robinson of the Sheriff’s Office, a physical altercation broke out after two students accosted another student in the school’s main hallway.
An investigation revealed that these two students began assaulting this student. A deputy assigned as the school’s resource officer intervened in an attempt to stop the assault, at which point three other students then entered the fracas, and commenced assaulting the original victim.
The deputy was forced to utilize pepper spray to take control of the situation and stop the assault.
The situation was brought under control with the assistance of the school’s administration and the arrival of additional law enforcement resources from the Wicomico Sheriff’s Office and Salisbury Police.
Four students were taken into custody and transported to the Sheriff’s Office. These four, along with a fifth student who fled from the school will be charged in this incident. Four of those charged are 16-year-old males while the other is a 15-year-old male.
The charges ranges from second-degree assault to disorderly conduct and disturbing school operations.
This investigation is still ongoing, Robinson said, and more arrests are possible.
The school was never in a “lockdown” state, but students were required to remain in their classrooms until officials cleared the incident.
Just before noon on Facebook, Principal Rick Briggs issued a statement to parents:
“This morning between 3rd and 4th periods our school had a series of altercations involving a small number of students. Those students have been detained and will be properly dealt with to ensure that a safe and orderly learning environment continues for the remainder of the student body.
“All students are safe and instruction will continue for the rest of the day with abbreviated class changes. We encourage parents to allow their students to remain at school, but parents are permitted to sign out their students if they wish.”
Later Wednesday afternoon, schools Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin reasserted her longstanding determination that safety was a priority.
“Providing a safe learning environment every day for our students and staff is our highest priority, so when we have a disruption to school routine like we had this morning at James M. Bennett High School we respond quickly and decisively with whatever resources we have available to ensure the incident is handled and order is restored,” Hanlin said.
“While it turned out that we did not need as much law enforcement support as immediately responded to the school, we do appreciate the quick response and readiness of officers from the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office and Salisbury City Police,” she said.
Sheriff Mike Lewis said all hands were dispatched to the school on College Avenue, meaning about 20 officers responded to the scene.
Bennett was the scene of a fight last fall, in which a student tried to attack school office personnel. Ironically, a student who stepped forward and tried to thwart that incident was honored Tuesday night by Briggs, the school board and the Wicomico County Council.