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Friday, December 20, 2013

Unplanned visit from Santa alarms teachers, summons police to Hollis elementary school

HOLLIS – A good deed intended to spread some holiday cheer and brighten up one of the last days of school before winter break went awry Thursday, as student recesses were canceled, parents were warned about a strange man in a suit running around schools, and Santa Claus was nearly arrested.

Hollis police were summoned to the Hollis Primary School on Silver Lake Road shortly before 10 a.m., when administrators spotted a man dressed as Santa running around the outside of the school, tapping on the windows and waving to students, according to Lt. Rich Mello. ...

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HOLLIS – A good deed intended to spread some holiday cheer and brighten up one of the last days of school before winter break went awry Thursday, as student recesses were canceled, parents were warned about a strange man in a suit running around schools, and Santa Claus was nearly arrested.

Hollis police were summoned to the Hollis Primary School on Silver Lake Road shortly before 10 a.m., when administrators spotted a man dressed as Santa running around the outside of the school, tapping on the windows and waving to students, according to Lt. Rich Mello.

The man was gone before police arrived, and other schools in the district were notified and an alert issued to parents, police said.

Students also were kept inside for recess, according to interim Superintendent Dr. John Moody.

The man, whom police declined to name because he is not being charged with a crime, contacted police around 12:30 p.m. to identify himself and said he was trying to “spread some holiday cheer” and didn’t intend to cause an alarm, Mello said.

“He just thought it would be a cool holiday thing for the kids to see Santa wave through the window,” he said. “He kind of set off a firestorm of precautions.”

While the incident turned out to be harmless, it’s one that Moody is taking seriously – particularly since the man was able to enter the school before staff realized something was amiss.

Moody said after knocking on windows and capering around for students, the man rang the buzzer at the front entrance. A staffer in the front office opened the door, thinking he was the person who dresses in costume for a number of functions at the school, including reading events. The man went to the main entrance and signed in, but then, seeing the alarm on a secretary’s face when she didn’t recognize him, fled the building, Moody said.

Moody said good intentions or not, the incident was a “serious violation” of the district’s protocols. He said the fact that the man was let into the building as well as the fact that administrators weren’t notified immediately when he was spotted outside the building needs to be addressed.

“There were some serious violations of our protocol relative to visitors to the school,” Moody said. “We cannot accept anyone we do not recognize into the building. There were certainly things that should have been done differently.”

Moody met with staff at the school Thursday afternoon to review those policies and plans to meet with district principals and the police after the winter break to talk about how to prevent anything similar happening in the future.

Mello acknowledged that the incident highlighted just how different society has become in the wake of tragedies like the deadly school shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook.

“It’s pretty sad we live in a world now that you have to be vigilant and cautious about anything that’s out of the ordinary or a little strange. It’s very sad,” Mello said. “Back in the ’80s, this wouldn’t have been on anybody’s radar.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached
at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com
. Also, follow Cote
on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).