Communication at issue after emergency bus evacuation

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Parents of students at the Charter School for Applied Technologies were outraged Tuesday when they found out an emergency evacuation of a school bus was caused by what authorities initially thought was a loaded handgun.

They grew even more frustrated by the lack of communication from the bus company, First Student. And the school administration on Wednesday sided with parents, saying improved communication is a must.

“Even if they’re just going to be late,” said Jamie Musacchio, whose daughter, Lilly, attends the school and was on the bus that was evacuated. “But in a case like this, we should know, all parents should know. It’s the safety of our children.”

But it wasn’t just that they were going to be late.

Dozens of CSAT students had to be pulled off their school bus after a first-grader was found with what authorities first thought was real loaded handgun. It turned out to be a very real looking pellet gun.

When police showed to CSAT superintendent Efrain Martinez, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“I told the detective, are you kidding me?” Martinez said. “I thought he wasn’t telling me the truth.”

Police said the gun’s appearance makes it even more dangerous.

“It has a cylinder just like a revolver,” said Vern Beaty, Buffalo Police SWAT Commander. “If you look at it, the weight is about similar. The only difference is the rear back where you have the CO2 cartridge. You have a split second to decide whether it’s real or fake. This is something that shouldn’t actually be on the street. This shouldn’t be in the wrong hands.”

Shortly after finding out about the incident, Martinez said he met with the students involved and their parents at a Buffalo police station. He assumed all the while First Student had already told parents their kids would be late.

They hadn’t.

“I assumed that the bus company was calling the parents of that specific route,” he said. “And they have the capability of doing that and telling them that we are delayed.”

The lack of information was even more concerning for parents, who didn’t hear anything until nearly 8 o’clock.

“I think First Student should have called the school, had something implemented, some plan of action,” Musacchio said. “But they didn’t. They dropped the ball.”

Martinez says he agrees.

“Nowadays, we want information and we want it now, we want it immediately with electronic media and social media,” Martinez said. “We want everything as soon as possible.

“That area of those parents of that specific bus, I would understand (their frustration). And that’s what I said to First Student this morning. They [parents] should have received a call.”

First student representatives said the driver followed protocol, acting cool under pressure and kept children calm.

“The safety and security of students on board is always our top priority,” said Chris Kemper, a spokesman for First Student. “It’s even more of a laser focus when there is an incident such as last night. Everyone on our team was really focused on the issue at hand.”

Still, Kemper said, there is room for improvement.

“We will reach out to the school to figure out best ways to improve communication,” he said. “It seems to me that we lived up to the expectation, but I do think there are opportunities to improve our communication with the school, and we will certainly work to do that.

Police said the situation was handled well, but could have been much worse.

“If he was on a bus and the police were called to the scene and they got on the bus and this kid has the gun or whatever, it could have gotten real serious. Real serious, real fast,” Beaty said.
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