Youth Takes Hostages, Kills Custodian

December 18, 1985 2 min read

Edward Burgess, Portland (Conn.) Junior High School math teacher, comforts two students following shootings at the school last week. Mr. Burgess’s jacket was lent by a friend after he rushed from the building with his students.

One adult was killed and five students were held hostage at gunpoint last week in unrelated incidents that disrupted two normally tranquil schools in the Northeast.

In Connecticut, a 13-year-old student at Portland Junior High School shot and killed a custodian at the school, injured the principal and his secretary, and held a 7th-grade male student hostage for nearly half an hour before surrendering to state police.

The youth, whose name was not released because of his age, entered the school shortly after lunch carrying a 9-millimeter semiautomatic rifle under his coat, according to Edward Dailey, a police spokesman.

According to the police’s reconstruction of the incident, the youth confronted the school’s principal, Donald Rixson, on the first floor, then shot at him when he locked the glass door to his office. Mr. Rixson was injured slightly by flying glass and his secretary was shot in the elbow, according to Mr. Dailey.

On his way to the second floor, the youth shot the school’s custodian, David L. Bengston, when he met him in the stairwell, he said.

The youth then took the 7th-grader hostage and wandered into several classrooms on the second floor. The police summoned the youth’s aunt, who used the school’s intercom system to convince him to throw the weapon out a second-story window.

The youth surrendered about an hour after he had entered the school, police said.

Although school officials were unavailable for comment late last week, press accounts said the youth had had disciplinary problems at the school and had been suspended a week earlier for violating the school’s dress code.

Philadelphia Hostages

A man who police say was under psychiatric treatment wandered into Archbishop Ryan High School for Boys in Philadelphia early last Monday afternoon, brandished a pistol, and took as hostages a priest, his secretary, and four students.

The intruder, Stephen Gold, told police the hostages would be released after the media aired his typewritten message, in which he demanded that President Reagan resign and turn over the Presidency to him.

The statement said: “If you refuse, the forces of evil will bring about the death of this nation.”

One 15-year-old student was allowed to leave to purchase a soda, and police negotiated the release of the secretary and Father Carl Graczyk, the assistant dean of students.

Nearly seven and a half hours after the incident began, the three students who remained hostage overpowered Mr. Gold when they realized his weapon was a starter pistol loaded with blanks, according to a spokesman for the Catholic schools.

No one was injured in the incident and the school community was “trying to get back in gear” last week, said Virginia L. Durkin, assistant communications director for the archdiocese of Philadelphia.--ws

A version of this article appeared in the December 18, 1985 edition of Education Week as Youth Takes Hostages, Kills Custodian