Police clear man accused of wielding gun at Concord High, say girl made it up
Concord Police Chief John Duval tells members of the press that the police dropped charges against alleged Concord High School gunman; Wednesday, May 1, 2013. The school was evacuated and a tactical team called in. Duval said that another student's story led to the incident.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Concord Police Chief John Duval tells members of the press that the police dropped charges against alleged Concord High School gunman; Wednesday, May 1, 2013. On Tuesday night the school was evacuated and a tactical team called in. Duval said that another student's story led to the incident.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Concord SChol Superintendant Chris Rath listens to Concord Police Chief John Duval tell the press that the police dropped charges against alleged Concord High School gunman; Wednesday, May 1, 2013. On Tuesday night the school was evacuated and a tactical team called in. Duval said that another student's story led to the incident.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
The Concord police cleared an 18-year-old man of wrongdoing hours after charging him Tuesday night and acknowledged yesterday that they had acted on a false report from a student who claimed he had threatened her with a gun at Concord High School.
At a press conference yesterday, Chief John Duval said rumors contributed to the confusion – as a SWAT team swept the school and social media filled with accounts that students had been shot. But the chief said that chaos didn’t cloud the investigation and the man was charged because detectives initially believed the supposed victim, whose story later crumbled.
“It was not something where on the initial face of it (investigators) detected any obvious lies,” Concord police Lt. Timothy O’Malley said. “Sometimes it’s obvious. In this case, they said it was very credible.”
That 16-year-old girl, who the police said may now face charges herself, made her first report to the police about 7:35 p.m. Tuesday, said O’Malley, who said she gave a clear and believable account that there had been a student in the school with a gun. O’Malley said other students reported then that the man in question had been upset that night, possibly over not getting a part in a zombie movie being filmed at the high school that evening.
O’Malley said the police are still investigating whether those accounts were accurate, but that detectives considered them when deciding to make an arrest. He said that primarily, though, investigators were concerned with the girl’s report when they took 18-year-old Gordon Hollingworth into custody shortly thereafter at his Concord home.
Hollingworth – who officials now say was at the school that night but had likely left by the time the police were called – was arrested and charged with criminal threatening, a Class B felony. Hollingworth couldn’t be reached yesterday for comment but his sister said her brother was at her home, on North State Street, when the girl made her first report to the police.
Only after Hollingworth had been charged did investigators conduct a second interview with the girl at the police station, said O’Malley, who added that detectives found even her second recounting of the evening to be credible.
But her third interview, conducted sometime after midnight, didn’t hold up, he said. O’Malley would not describe that conversation or say whether the girl admitted to lying. But he said yesterday that the police now believe her claim that Hollingworth had a gun at the school was “a complete fabrication.”
O’Malley denied that officers charged the man prematurely, though. He said they had probable cause to make the arrest when they did.
“They had a report, and a very credible report, of someone in the school with a firearm,” he said. “Given the potential threat to public safety, the officers acted appropriately. Probable cause is probable cause. . . . It’s not guilty. We operate on that standard to make our arrests.”
The girl spoke with the Monitor on Tuesday night and claimed Hollingworth pointed the gun at her after he had grown upset with other students involved in the zombie movie.
Within a couple hours of the incident at the high school, she posted comments about the matter on her public Facebook page, telling a friend in one exchange that she was okay but shaken. She also posted an account of the evening, which was removed by yesterday morning, along with other posts and links to news stories about the incident.
Yesterday on her Facebook page, she briefly posted this comment: “im sorry for my lies.”
Reached yesterday, the girl declined to comment. Her mother told the Monitor she believed the police could not bring charges against her daughter because she is a minor.
“We’ve corrected my daughter’s problem with the police,” she added.
But the police said they are considering charges of creating public alarm and making a false report to law enforcement. O’Malley said they’re still investigating whether those or other counts are warranted. That could take a few days, he said.
Duval said his department alone spent up to $10,000 on Tueday night’s investigation, and it’s possible those costs could eventually be deferred to the girl, if she is charged, through the courts system.
Name not released
Tuesday’s arrest was unusual in that the police charged the man with a felony but did not formally release his name.
Concord Lt. John Thomas did inadvertently provide Hollingworth’s name, albeit misspelled, as part of a press release issued at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday; the document was saved as “Press Release Gordon Hollington 2013.”
As late as 12:45 a.m. yesterday, Duval said the police intended to release the name and booking photo of the man they had in custody. That release never came. And later that morning, officials confirmed the charges had been dropped. Hollingworth was in custody for about four hours before being released, O’Malley said.
(The Monitor named Hollingworth after confirming his identity not only through the press release but also with several independent sources familiar with the investigation.)
Duval, not mentioning the misspelling in the press release, stressed that the department held back on releasing Hollingworth’s name when he was asked yesterday whether the man deserved an apology from the police for being wrongfully arrested.
“I think that’s the downfall, quite honestly, of social media in that oftentimes other people may think they know how it is and names get floated. . . . We anticipated releasing the name and photograph once the investigation was brought to a further conclusion,” he said. “But as you now know, it took a turn last night, and we did not release the information. But there has been a name that was sent out there, and I’m not exactly sure how that now gets addressed because he did not commit a crime last night.”
Duval reflected at length yesterday, at times with frustration, on how social media aggravated the situation Tuesday night.
He said rumors that a bomb had gone off and there had been a hostage situation fed fears “that were baseless, quite honestly.” Late Tuesday evening, a school official had to dispel a report that people had been shot after students who were painted with fake blood for their parts in the zombie movie were seen leaving the building.
Duval said he was also fielding calls from media as far away as New York, some from individuals trying to confirm or dispel misinformation.
“The more you say, ‘No, this didn’t happen,’ then you get responses, ‘Then what did happen?’ While at the same time we’re trying to figure out what the reality was, in the midst of the incident,” he said. “So it becomes tough.”
He said most concerning was seeing how reports of a threat at the school drew individuals to the building.
“I’ve been told there were people that were telling other people, ‘Something’s happening at the high school, you need to go,’ ” he said. “Which is very troubling to me.”