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Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > December 9, 2004

HUNTER'S STRAY BULLET HITS SCHOOL CLASSROOM NEAR UNIONTOWN

Thursday, December 9, 2004

By Jerome L. Sherman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A hunter's stray bullet pierced a wall at an elementary school near Uniontown yesterday, hitting a backpack in a classroom filled with third-graders.

No one was injured in the incident, which happened around 2 p.m. at D. Ferd Swaney Elementary School on Township Drive, according to Walter Vicinelly, superintendent for the Albert Gallatin Area School District.

Authorities said the shooting appeared accidental.

Charges were pending last night against two juveniles who were hunting near the school at the time of the shooting.

State police and state Game Commission officials confiscated two rifles and ammunition from the 16-year-old males. A third juvenile was at the scene but did not have a rifle.

School officials ordered the district's eight other schools to activate their crisis plans, telling staff to watch for suspicious activity.

"We went on lockdown," Vicinelly said. "I didn't know if we had a sniper situation, and I didn't want to take any chances."

A witness told officials that a group of hunters were gathered on a hill near the school at the time of the shooting, Vicinelly said.

The bullet hit the front of the school, about two feet above the window, going through the wall and striking a backpack in a classroom. The teacher in the room, Wendy Mickey, told her students to lie on the floor and called the principal's office. Moments later, she took the children to the cafeteria.

"She did exactly what she needed to do," Vicinelly said. "She needs to be recognized for that."

The teacher could not be reached for comment last night.

Vicinelly, who arrived at the scene soon after the shooting, said he did not know exactly how many children were in the room, but a typical classroom holds about 15 students. Police, school security officials and the Game Commission were called to the scene.

School officials called the parents of each child that had been in the classroom. The rest of the school's 390 students took letters home to their parents.

A team of counselors will be at the school this morning, said Vicinelly.

(Jerome L. Sherman can be reached at jsherman@post-gazette.com  or 412-263-1183.)

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