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10 SD 227 students face felony charge for brawl

Rich Township High School's South Campus Tuesday Oct. 1 2013 | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media

Rich Township High School's South Campus on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 3, 2013 6:26AM



A bomb threat at Rich Central High School. A mass busing of students to Rich South. A pulled fire alarm at Rich South, and three students trampled in a hallway trying to flee. A melee outside the school among students, with 10 charged with mob action.

Authorities say this strange series of events unfolded Monday afternoon, resulting in an outbreak of violence that took police from several department about an hour to resolve.

Some Rich Township High School District 227 Board members are questioning the decision to send about 1,400 Rich Central students to Rich South following a bomb threat, saying that the move endangered children at both schools.

Richton Park’s police chief criticized District 227’s transport of the students, saying police were made aware of the students being bused only after getting a call when the brawl began.

Top district officials denied that, saying they contacted police immediately after moving the students and were following an emergency plan they put together with local police chiefs this summer. The plan calls for students to be evacuated and sent to another school in the event of a credible bomb threat.

“I’m assuming some part of the process didn’t get followed through,” school board president Cheryl Coleman said. “I can’t see ourselves walking into a nightmare, if you understand what I’m saying.”

‘It looked like total chaos’

The melee occurred about 2:30 p.m. after busloads of Central students were transported to South, placed in the school gym and someone pulled a fire alarm at the school, 5000 Sauk Trail, police said.

Three girls were injured when trampled during the evacuation of the building and were taken to a hospital. A South teacher and a Richton Park police officer were also treated at a hospital for injuries sustained during the melee, which broke out while students from both schools (about 2,800) were outside the school, according to police.

Coleman said Rich South Principal Cynthia Hudson was also injured when a student pushed her off of a bus full of Central students.

Police said it took about an hour to end the fighting among students, and they did not use stun guns or pepper spray in trying to quell the brawl. The Central students were bused back to their school, and the South students were sent home, police said.

“It was the worst thing I can say that has can ever happened to the school since I’ve been here,” Rich South senior Maggie Moore said. “I’ve never seen anything like this where (students) would sit there and come to another school and be disrespectful and pull the alarm.”

Rich South senior Brandi Marks said that she saw students from Central jumping on cars in the parking lot and provoking South students prior to the fight.

“I guess I was worried for my safety,” Marks said. “I was worried for my friends.”

Of the 10 students charged with mob action, a felony, only Crystal Gholson, 17, of Country Club Hills, was charged as an adult, police said, adding that more arrests are possible after a review of video surveillance from the school.

District 227 Supt. Doris Langon said the students who pulled the fire alarm and made the bomb threat have been identified and charges are pending.

More than 30 Cook County sheriff’s police officers were called to assist in ending the fighting, along with officers from Richton Park, Matteson, Park Forest, and New Lenox.

“I was there, it looked like total chaos,” Richton Park Police Chief Elvia Williams said. “We got one fight under control, and another fight would break out.”

Williams said that while many students remained calm, some others “took advantage of the situation and made the decision to cause chaos and fight.”

Started with bomb threat

Coleman said the trouble began when a Rich Central substitute teacher received a bomb threat about 1 p.m.

Olympia Fields police said a threatening note indicated the bomb would go off at 2 p.m., and they found an “unattended and accounted for box with wires protruding from it on the floor in one of the classrooms.” They said the sheriff’s police bomb squad arrived at Central, 3600 W. 203rd St., Olympia Fields, and determined that the device was not explosive.

The substitute teacher alerted Central administrators about the bomb threat, and Langon said she decided to bus the students to South. She said Central’s police supervisor contacted the area 911 center about the students being bused.

But Williams said she learned of the transport only after the melee broke out. If she had known about the busing plan, she would’ve advised District 227 officials against it, she said.

“When you get that many students together from different schools, you need to have certain controls in place,” Williams said. “Those controls were not in place, and things got out of hand.”

Langon said she was following a emergency plan that was put in place in July. The prior plan called for students, in the case of a credible bomb threat, to be sent to a former seminary building at Tolentine Park across the street from Central. The building has since closed.

Developed in conjunction with the police chiefs of Matteson, Richton Park, Park Forest and Olympia Fields, District 227’s new emergency plan called for students to be sent to a different school, with local police notified, Langon said. She said the plan will be re-evaluated at the school board’s Oct. 11 meeting.

Reached by phone Tuesday, two school board members were outraged by Monday’s events.

Emmanuel Imoukhuede said “whoever made that decision (to bus the students) has no knowledge of safety of children and something needs to be done quickly. Such a person should not be responsible for taking care of the kids anymore.”

Board member Sheila Friday called the whole situation “ridiculous.”

“None of this would have happened if the students were never transported to Rich South,” Friday said. “We could have sent the (Central) kids home and got in touch with their parents and dealt with that consequence rather than putting them in a position where they could be harmed.”



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