CSEA North Bellmore School District Clerical/Food Services Unit President Mary Grace Roach answers calls at the school.

NORTH BELLMORE — As one of two clerical workers in the principal’s office, CSEA North Bellmore School District Clerical/Food Services Unit President Mary Grace Roach helps field every phone call that comes into Newbridge Road Elementary School.

Roach and her co-workers recently showed their high level of preparedness for keeping the school community safe when they faced a swatting incident at the school.

Swatting is the practice of reporting false threats to emergency responders to bring many police to a particular address. In recent years, numerous school districts across the state have been targeted in these incidents.

Even with all of her experience, Roach was not prepared for the emotional impact of a swatting incident.

“I could tell the person on the phone had a voice changer to make their voice sound deeper,” said Roach. “They said, ‘I’m in the bathroom, downstairs with a gun and I’m going to come out and start shooting people.’”

Roach said she was stunned and begun to process what she just heard when the person on the other end of the line repeated themselves with this line: “Did you hear what I said? I’m downstairs in the bathroom with a gun, and now I’m going to come upstairs and I’m going to kill you and everybody in the office.”

Based on the caller’s words, Roach thought that they were familiar with the building. While the caller was still speaking, Roach signaled to the other clerical worker to get the school principal.

“I was still on the phone when I noticed that the person on the other end began to sound like they were crying,” said Roach. “[The caller] said, ‘I’ve been really badly bullied for a long time and I need to start hurting people back.’”

Quick response
At that point, the principal was standing next to Roach and the other clerical worker as Roach told the caller that she was really sorry they had been bullied and asked for the caller’s name. Then, she looked down at the school phone’s caller ID. Roach saw that it was an out-of-state number, which meant the caller was likely using an application to disguise their phone number.

Again, she asked the caller for their name. The caller refused to give their name and said, “I’m coming out now” and hung up the phone.

Roach immediately told the principal what the caller said and advised that the school needed to immediately go into lockdown.

During a lockdown, usually called during immediate threats of violence in or around the school, students and staff are directed to take cover, remain silent and out of view.

As the lockdown process was underway, Roach called 911 and then joined nine other people in hiding in a closet in the principal’s office.

“We listened for gunshots while we waited,” said Roach. “Someone had on their walkie-talkie and it began to make noise. After that, I told everyone to silence their devices.”

That is when they heard the police sirens and officers beginning to flood the building.

“Their guns were all drawn and they yelled, ‘Nassau County Police,’” said Roach. “In that situation, we’re not supposed to respond so we said nothing. Eventually, the police opened the closet door and they saw all of us standing there.”

Well prepared
While this incident was a hoax, it highlighted CSEA members’ preparedness for emergencies.
Our union members employed at the school have received training for emergency events like the swatting incident that occurred. They also have active shooter drills about three times a year.

— Wendi Bowie


About Author

Wendi Bowie is an award-winning journalist who has focused the majority of her career on covering Long Island news. Her efforts have earned her the Press Club of Long Island Media Award for Public Affairs and the Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting Folio Award. Wendi was drawn to her current position as Communications Specialist for CSEA’s Long Island Region because it speaks to her strong desire to champion the rights of the common man and woman.

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