Magruder High School. Credit: File photo

An “after action” report on a shooting that critically injured a student at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in January is too general and doesn’t shed enough light on what happened that day during the lockdown, parent leaders say.

A 17-year-old boy allegedly shot and seriously injured a fellow male student, now 16, inside a restroom at the school just before 1 p.m. Jan. 21, according to authorities. Police said the 17-year-old shot the student with a ghost gun that he bought online in what was allegedly a pre-planned attack. The 17-year-old student has been charged with attempted murder, among other charges, and will be tried as an adult.

On Monday, Montgomery County Public Schools released the report, which was written after MCPS leaders met with leaders of the Maryland Center for School Safety in April to review the shooting, as required by law. The report recommended:

  • Coordination between MCPS, police and Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service in developing training for the school’s front office staff on the 911 emergency call process, and training for 911 call takers on what questions to ask school staff.
  • The addition of “stop the bleed” kits in schools and more training on lifesaving treatment for staff. The report credits a nurse who used a kit with helping save the victim’s life at Magruder.
  • A “joint command training session” with MCPS staff, police and Fire & Rescue Service members.
  • An evaluation of what technologies are available to staff for receiving updates using cellphone and computer technology. And “options should be explored” for how students and staff can use restrooms during lockdowns.
  • A review by MCPS and police of “whether the identified appropriate law enforcement agencies” have access to school-issued key fobs, allowing officers to quickly get into schools.

For parents including Cynthia Simonson, the mother of a freshman and a 2022 graduate of Magruder, the report lacked specificity about what went wrong when it came to communication that day and didn’t offer enough solutions.

“My immediate response was [that I was] unsure of what the purpose of this report was. Because it didn’t seem to identify anything new that hadn’t already been disclosed,” said Simonson, formerly the president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA). “But also, as a parent of Magruder students, it didn’t really address where there were opportunities for improvement.”

The shooter was found in a classroom and taken into custody by police around 3 p.m. that day, but students did not leave school until hours later. Some students previously told Bethesda Beat that they used bottles to urinate in because they could not leave the classroom to use the restroom.

Simonson said she believes many students are “bitter” about being forced to remain at the school until after a press conference with police and school leaders had concluded.

“The timing … it did feel for those students like the intention of all of those decision makers … that the focus was not getting those kids reunited with their families. The focus of all of those decision makers was having a press event,” she said.

Simonson said other communication problems occurred earlier in the day, such as an appearance at the school by State’s Attorney John McCarthy that was initially unexplained.

“What was he doing there? Like, why was the state’s attorney on the scene, walking through the crowd that early in the process?” she said.

Simonson said the report needed to address a more specific action plan for delivering updates to parents, such as a message from the school every 30 to 45 minutes. Additionally, she wishes that officials has created a space for concerned parents to gather near the school instead of the chaotic scene that developed of cars parked along Needwood Road, nearby the school.

Randall MacGill, the father of a rising junior and the president of the Magruder parent-student-teacher association, said the after-action brief was comprehensive and he hopes it leads to more conversations between parents, students, teachers and others about the January shooting.

“One point that jumped out at me that was particularly poignant was the expanded training and access to the Stop the Bleed emergency kits and I would encourage MCPS to opening up their approach to that,” MacGill said of the report.

He also agreed that law enforcement officers should be given  key fobs for certain entry points into schools, in case of an emergency.

Kim Glassman, MCCPTA coordinator for the Magruder cluster, said the report left lots of questions unanswered about what occurred the day of the shooting, and what actions and discussions still need to take place.

Glassman, the mother of a son who is a rising junior, said there have been reports in the Magruder community that a class was dismissed during the lockdown of the school, then students and others were out in the hallways. After that apparent shuffle of people, the shooter was later directed into that same classroom, where he was apprehended. 

If police or others did in fact direct the shooter into a classroom, then MCPS needs to review whether safety protocols were followed and share that information with the Magruder community, Glassman said. 

Simonson said that she too has heard that the shooter was directed into a classroom.

“That was an error. And we got really, really lucky that the shooter had already dismantled the gun and that the shooter did not have any ill intention with those students in that classroom,” she said. “But that shooter was swept into the classroom because there was not clear communication. There was not that framework in place.”

Also concerning, according to Glassman, is the fact that MCPS did not make the after-incident report public until Monday, weeks after the date shown on the report—May 13.

“I understand why, in the moment, the information that was coming out that day was guarded, and it should have been,” Glassman said. “But now it’s [almost] six months later. I don’t see why we’re withholding information from parents that is relevant to the safety of our children, today and tomorrow and into the future.”

In response to an inquiry from Bethesda Beat about criticism of the report, MCPS spokesman Chris Cram wrote in an email that “these types of reports are always an opportunity to reflect on and improve on practices meant for safety and operations.

“Each item in the After-Action report is getting a thorough review or has already prompted a change to make schools safe, such as the enhanced training for MCPS staff and police” and a recently enacted agreement concerning the use of police officers in schools, he wrote. “Information for the public was shared frequently and included everything that was known in that moment as well as a promise to update or share more as it became available.”

Simonson said she knows that “1,000 things that went right” the day of the shooting and she is grateful. But she worries that MCPS leaders have continued to fail to acknowledge what went wrong.  

“I don’t want to sound too salty, but MCPS has been telling me as long as I can remember: ‘We made the best possible decision with the information we had available at the time. And so, because of that, there’s never going to be a mistake. There’s never going to be a misstep. There’s never going to be an error. Because they made the best possible decisions with the information they had available,” she said. “Until that intention changes … what would be the point of sharing all of those concerns, if the answer is ‘We did the best we possibly could with the information we had?’ I’m not sure that there’s the ability to [publicly] accept or identify missteps, and that’s the way you grow.”

Dan Schere

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com.

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com

Caitlynn Peetz

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com