South Portland High School.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

South Portland schools Superintendent Timothy Matheney tried to reassure the school community at a board meeting Tuesday night that the high school is safe, taking the step to address two nerve-racking incidents this year involving possible threats of violence.

Matheney presented a report on safety and security after the high school was placed in lockdown Sept. 29 when a minor was detained on school property with a replica airsoft gun. Students were eventually sent home for the day.

South Portland schools Superintendent Tim Matheny provides a report on the school lockdown that occurred on Sept. 29. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The September lockdown came just five months after former student Tristan Hamilton, 17, was arrested and charged with trying to recruit another person into a scheme to kill members of the high school community. Hamilton was not involved in the Sept. 29 incident.

District Court Judge Peter Darvin ruled in September that the criminal proceedings against Hamilton will remain open to the public, but said that for the time being he will continue to restrict the types of information prosecutors can share publicly. Hamilton, who turned 17 in September, has been charged with criminal solicitation, arson and terrorizing.

The April event in combination with the Sept. 29 lockdown prompted Matheney and the school administration to reflect on steps they can take to make not just the high school, but all city schools safer.

“We are unsettled, we are unnerved by the circumstances of Sept. 29 in South Portland,” Matheney told the school board. “But I think we can learn from that event and point with pride at how it was handled.”


“Since the start of school on Sept. 5 there have been 40 mass shootings in the United States,” Matheney said. “How can we distance ourselves from that reality?”

Matheney praised high school staff, students and parents for their handling of the Sept. 29 threat. He proceeded to lay out in great detail everything that happened that day from the time the incident began to when it ended, revealing that school officials and police suspected there might have been an accomplice inside the high school at the same time the suspect was being questioned at the police station.

Both incidents left teachers, parents and students wondering about their security and teachers feeling as though the school administration owed them a more detailed explanation. Staff members told the Press Herald they are frustrated with what they see as the district’s lack of transparency about how it’s responding to the pending criminal charges against Hamilton.

“Transparency is important. We know that,” Matheney told the school board.

Though he did not discuss the case involving Hamilton, the superintendent told an audience of about 45 people that he credits a “thoughtful staffer” with reporting a suspicious individual outside the school around 9:11 a.m.

When School Resource Officer Caleb Gray questioned the individual and looked in his backpack, Gray told others that he spotted a gun. The teen fled, but was quickly apprehended by police. The weapon turned out to be an airsoft replica, a gun that shoots non-lethal plastic and often is used in paintball games.


During his conversation with the youth, the suspect mentioned another person of interest by name. That person was inside the high school at the time.

Matheney said the high school went into lockdown around 9:32 a.m. while South Portland police took the suspect to the police station and questioned him. The second student was removed from the high school, but it was later determined that he had nothing to do with the teen with the air gun.


That process took time, leaving many teachers and students stuck in their classrooms for more than an hour.

“We couldn’t give the all clear until we were confident the school was safe,” Matheney said.

“Being in that situation is a lot different than seeing and hearing about it on TV,” high school student Gabe Domingas said. “I don’t think I’ve felt that scared in a long time.”


“It was one of the scariest moments of my life,” added high school student Angela Kabisa. “I was crying and I called my parents. I thought that this could be my last day on earth.”

Domingas and Kabisa are both student representatives on the school board. Board members thanked the students for sharing their stories, calling them moving and powerful.

Kabisa said she finds it sad that being a teacher in this country means you could be placing your life in danger every day you go to work. She thanked her teachers for their courage and support that got her and others through the ordeal.

Board members were generally supportive of the school administration’s response, but urged Matheney to work on improving communications between school administrators, police, staff and parents in situations like the lockdown.

Board member Molly Schen praised the “resilience and fortitude” of high school staff and students, but urged the school community to feel free to make suggestions on ways city schools could be made safer.

Matheney hinted at returning to the board and City Council with a proposal to enhance security at the city’s five elementary schools. Such a spending package would be presented to voters in a June 2024 referendum if it gains traction.

“We’re talking about several millions dollars,” he said.

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