Thursday January 3, 2013
DAWSON RASPUZZI and NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- A local teacher surrendered a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle to police Monday, shortly after raising public safety concerns through videos and statements he posted on the Internet.
Steven Davis, a beloved science and math teacher at Mount Anthony Union High School for the past nine years, has been hospitalized since Monday following a mental health evaluation, according to Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette.
Upon advice of police, Davis was voluntarily transported to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, although Doucette said on Wednesday that Davis is now being held at the hospital. Davis is on administrative leave from his teaching position.
Davis purchased the AR-15 military-style rifle in April 2009, along with two high-capacity magazines and 500 rounds of ammunition. The gun and magazines were surrendered to police on Monday and police later confiscated the ammunition during a search of his home that was permitted by a family member.
Neighbors asked police to do a welfare check on Davis after seeing him carry the rifle to his vehicle Sunday evening. Davis then voluntarily surrendered the gun, telling police he put it in the trunk of his car in order to bring it to a storage unit he recently rented.
"This weapon was in a case. It has a trigger lock installed, but it was alarming to find two, 30-round, high-capacity magazines loaded," Doucette said.
Davis told police he purchased the gun as an interest at the time, but the gun has never been fired.
"Based on my experiences as a firearms instructor here and looking at the weapon, I do not believe he's ever fired the weapon. He has, in fact, indicated that he has never fired the weapon. There are no scrape marks or scuffs on the magazines or the magazine well, which, again, would indicate to me that he has never fired the weapon," Doucette said.
After the welfare check Sunday evening, Davis' wife and children went to stay with a relative. She sought a restraining order the following day. In the order, his wife stated she was unaware that Davis owned a gun and said she and others have noticed a change in Davis' personality over the last month.
On Monday morning, Davis began posting videos that criticized school administrators, the teachers union and co-workers, among a slew of other topics. Davis also sent a school-wide email saying he would "remove the union and all of the teachers who are negatively affecting the children in this town."
"I think that he's probably driven at this point and wants to get out and push some of his ideas forward. There's no doubt in my mind, at all, that he's very concerned about the way that he's been treated by the supervisory union. He's very angry at the teachers union itself for going on strike last year," Doucette said.
The content Davis posted online struck fear in some members of the community as well as co-workers and students who were concerned for Davis' safety.
"We were getting inundated with telephone calls from school teachers because he was sending out emails. He was posting stuff on Facebook and it became disturbing to some people," Doucette said.
After viewing the content Davis posted, Doucette asked him to come to the station to speak, which Davis did voluntarily. Doucette said some of the statements made by Davis during that meeting were alarming.
"He indicated to me that he was very unhappy with some staff at the supervisory union here and he was unhappy with the education that some of the children and students are receiving here at the Mount Anthony Union High School. He indicated that there were some teachers that needed to be gone from the school," Doucette said. "He never came out and threatened the teachers in any way, he just said it was time for change. But, when he started going on about reading CIA manuals and he talked about looking into military training and things like that, I became alarmed. My staff became even more alarmed and we became concerned about the safety of the teachers at the school and the safety of the community."
Doucette said he previously met Davis at a school function several years ago and met him again two weeks ago when Davis wanted to talk about ways to improve the community. Doucette said something was different when he spoke to Davis on Monday.
"It just didn't seem right. With my position, I'm concerned about public safety and the safety of this community. It just didn't seem right. I just felt something was wrong with him," Doucette said. "He was on this crusade where he wanted to see improvements and it was now time for improvements."
Doucette characterized Davis as "driven," but very intelligent and particular in the way he worded things.
"It seems like he wants to improve the community, but at the same time, he's definitely not going about it the right way and some of his actions are definitely alarming and raise a concern for public safety," Doucette said.
The seizure of Davis' gun comes on the heels of a massacre in Newtown, Conn., in which 26 people -- including 20 first-graders ages 6 and 7 -- were gunned down in a school by a man with the same model Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. That Dec. 14 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shocked the nation and raised renewed calls for enhanced gun control laws and mental health awareness and treatment.
The Newtown shooting also raised questions about the safety and security of schools. Several days after the shooting the National Rifle Association, a powerful advocate for access to guns, called for armed guards in every school in America.
In a phone message Davis left at the Banner Wednesday morning he read from a letter he wrote for one of his children in which he addressed surrendering the rifle. He denied any intent to harm others.
"A very bad man recently used a similar rifle to hurt lots of boys and girls. Right now some people think I am like that bad man. I am not anything like that bad man," Davis said.
In that letter Davis also assured his son he is feeling well and will be released in the next few weeks.
In the same phone message, Davis explained he purchased the military-style rifle because it is similar to the M-16 he had used in the Army, making him familiar with how to take it apart and clean it.
The Newtown shooting initiated a Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union-wide review of emergency response plans for every building and a search for ways to improve facility security concerns, according to Doucette and school officials.
The high school and SVSU Central Office building had an additional law enforcement presence Wednesday as police checked in and drove by the buildings periodically. Doucette said the additional patrols will continue for the remainder of the week.
"(Mount Anthony Principal Sue Maguire) and I have been working closely with the police department on security issues to make sure that safety issues have been addressed" said SVSU Superintendent Catherine McClure.
A voluntary meeting of high school staff was held Wednesday morning during which Maguire made staff aware of the situation and how to address the situation if students bring it up. Maguire also visited each of Davis' classes to introduce them to their substitute and listen to any questions or concerns they had. The high school also made school clinicians available to anyone who wished to talk about the situation.
Doucette said police will continue to work with school officials as well as Davis and his family to ensure public safety.
"The police department's role in this going forward is to continue to ensure the safety of the community, to continue to ensure the safety of our schools and to hopefully work with Mr. Davis and his family to hopefully get things back on track and to help them through this. Mr. Davis is very well respected, is an excellent teacher," Doucette said.