BUFFALO, N.Y.(WIVB)- More than a dozen cop cars, the SWAT team, K9 units and the Erie County Sheriff’s Air One helicopter swarmed Harvey Austin Elementary School in Buffalo on Thursday after reports of a man with a gun near the school or on the grounds. Dwayne Ferguson, head of the Buffalo chapter of MAD DADS, was taken into custody. He will be arraigned Friday.
An anonymous call came into 911 around 4:15 p.m. that a man with a gun was seen inside the Sycamore Street school. The building was placed in lockdown and around 60 students who were in the building for after school programs were herded into the cafeteria as officers from every district in the city went room-to-room in twos and threes looking for a possible gunman. A portion of Sycamore Street and Walden Avenue were closed and parents were kept from the scene until a preliminary sweep of the school was complete.
In the preliminary sweep, no gunman was found, and school buses arrived at the school around 5:30 p.m. to take the children to School 91. But it took until at least 7 p.m. before the students began to arrive to be released to their parents.
School officials say students were checked for weapons as they boarded the buses to be transported to School 91, and all were safe and accounted for. Afterwards, staff began placing calls to parents to inform them of what was taking place.
Meanwhile, the SWAT team conducted a more thorough secondary search of the school. It was during the secondary search that police found Ferguson with a gun.
Police believe the 52-year-old may have been the person that prompted the 911 call. Police say they do not believe he had any ill intent and Ferguson has a valid permit for the weapon.
However, for having a loaded weapon on school grounds, Ferguson has been charged with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon. Authorities say Ferguson was at the school because he teaches an after school program, though he is not a district employee.
A school spokeswoman says Ferguson is known to the district and was working for an after school provider. Ferguson is the head of the Buffalo chapter and sits on the National Board of Directors of MAD DADS, an organization that aims to “promote and demonstrate positive images of fathers engaging in community development and protecting youth and families.”
News 4 interviewed Ferguson in March of 2013 at a rally in support of the NY SAFE Act. At the time, Ferguson stated the law did not go far enough.
“Our kids are not buying assault weapons, they’re buying pistols and they’re buying them right out of community stores and back here in the school. So this is serious. It needs to go further than what it is,” he said.
School officials say police will be increasing their presence at the school for the remainder of the week and support teams will be at the school on Friday for those children who need to discuss Thursday’s alarming incident.
Superintendent Pamela Brown released a statement late Thursday night saying, in part, “I understand our parents’ concerns, and I express my deepest apologies for the anxiety they have experienced. I also apologize for the interruption of the students’ after school activities, while I commend them for following the instructions provided by our trained staff. Due to laws that are in place, and whether this was an intentional act or an oversight on the part of the individual in question, this is now a police matter.”