Henderson principal says protocol was key following assault at the school

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 19, 2012

SALISBURY – Despite spending two hours at the hospital Thursday following an assault, the principal of Henderson Independent High School said he doesn’t regret his decision to approach a group of young men trespassing on the campus.
“I would do it again,” Dr. Chris Vecchione said Friday during a press conference. “As administrators, it is our job to be sure that the schools are safe and orderly.”
Vecchione sustained a fractured nose, strained ligaments in his wrist and closed head contusions, or bruises, during an altercation at the school.
“I feel great. I was able to get right back to work yesterday afternoon after I visited the hospital,” he said Friday.
Michael Allen Joseph Jr., 17, of Ashbook Road, is accused of punching Vecchione in the face after the principal and resource officer Terry Moore approached him and at least four other camouflage-clad males who were lingering outside the school.
He is facing criminal charges, including misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and second-degree trespassing.
Vecchione said he immediately knew the group of males were not students at the school and decided to ask them to leave.
“I know my kids, so I know who belongs here and who doesn’t,” he said.
The assault occurred after Moore noticed one of the trespassers fidgeting with his pockets. Police said the unidentified male threw a pistol on the ground and Joseph hit Vecchione.
The group quickly dispersed and Joseph was the only one arrested.
“To be honest with you, we really didn’t expect to find what we found,” Vecchione said. “So when we approached them, I think it could’ve gotten a lot worse than it did.”
Vecchione said Thursday was the first time during his 11 years as a principal that he has experienced such a situation. He said in the past he’s taken classes on how to properly restrain, but nothing prepared him for the altercation.
“I wouldn’t say that I was trained to experience that,” he said.
But he said everyone acted appropriately when things got violent.
“As soon as (Moore) shared that he needed some support it was like a calvary came in and it was immediate,” Vecchione said. “I really believe because of the Salisbury Police Department, things didn’t get a lot worse than they did.”
The school went into code-yellow lock down mode following the assault.
“Code yellow is just a heightened sense of security around the campus to ensure our staff are safe and our students are safe,” Vecchione said.
During a code yellow lock down, classes continue as usual, but all the doors to the school are locked and students are not allowed to leave the building or participate in outside activities.
“Yesterday was a clear example of a time we needed to use the drill, and it worked perfectly,” Vecchione said. “Between the school staff, the students, local law enforcement and the school district, everyone came together and it worked flawlessly.”
Dr. Rebecca Smith, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum, filled in as the school’s lead administrator while Vecchione was at the hospital.
“There are also a few people here on campus who have a quasi-administrative role and they just stepped right in,” he said. “They were able to take over and just carry on with the day.”
Vecchione said Thursday’s incident was rare because it’s not often that people gather on the campus.
“There are times when adults might walk through the back to cut through the street to save some time, but we really haven’t had any trouble with people coming on and trespassing, especially when we asked them to leave.”
Vecchione expects to return to work Monday following a checkup with a specialist.
Officers are trying to identify the group’s other members.
Anyone with information about the assault is asked to contact the Salisbury Police Department at 704-638-5333 or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-639-5245.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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