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School parents

Parents say experience 'nerve-wracking' when tracking down children after school fire

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Wilson Middle School Explosion

An explosion was reported at Wilson Middle School Wednesday.

At first only fire trucks, ambulances and two Life Lion helicopters circled Wilson Middle School.

Within 30 minutes of the initial fire call, cars started pulling into the parking lots of Bellaire Elementary School across the street and Northwestern Human Services Autism School next door as parents started making the trek up the driveway to Wilson Middle School.

Some were running.

Inside, a science experiment had gone awry causing a fire and injuring five students. Three were taken to Carlisle Regional Medical Center by ambulance. Two were taken by Life Lion to Johns Hopkins Burn Center, a common treatment facility for burn victims in the region.

Later, two more students and a teacher were taken to Carlisle hospital for further evaluation.

Most of the parents who came to the school wanted to pick up their children, having heard that something had happened at the school even if details about the nature of the incident were yet forthcoming.

“We heard from a neighbor that something had happened; that there was a bomb at the school,” said Bryce Pullen, who came to pick up her son, Payton Fawber.

The fire at Wilson came a day after Carlisle High School received a bomb threat that Carlisle Police said was not credible.

On Wednesday morning, it wasn’t a bomb. It was a chemical reaction that caused what Carlisle Area School District Superintendent John Friend called a “fireball.” The fire was quickly put out using a fire extinguisher.

Outside that eighth grade science classroom, Colton Sweeney was among the students waiting to change classes. He heard a “loud pop” that he said sounded “like a chair fell over or something.”

He heard screams and crying.

“It was scary,” he said. “You didn’t know if you’d lose your classmates or not. You were worried about your friends.”

His parents came to pick him up from school, but as he left he said he would rather stay and make sure his friends were OK.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m worried about my friend.”

According to Megan Silverstrim, spokeswoman for the Cumberland County Department of Public Safety, parents of the injured students were notified immediately. A “reunification station” was set up to streamline the process of signing children out of school. School was not dismissed early, though parents were allowed to take their children home if they wanted.

Still, the process was frustrating for Pullen, who only wanted to see her son.

She said she understands the precautions the school takes by requiring the students to be signed out, but it was nerve-wracking.

“You want your child,” she said. “You want to make sure he’s alright.”

Other parents walked up the driveway only to return alone, having decided to leave their child in school once they determined that the child was safe.

Jeanine Fisher of Carlisle picked up her sixth grade daughter at around 2:15 p.m. Her daughter didn’t know what had happened earlier, but Fisher had gathered information via the Internet and a phone call from the district.

“The telephone call that came was that there was an explosion in the eighth grade science room,” she said.

Fire officials are still investigating the incident, which has Pullen rattled enough that she’s not sure that she’s comfortable enough to send her son to classes tomorrow.

Wilson Middle School will have classes Thursday. Counselors will be available to assist students.


Sentinel Reporter Christen Croley contributed to this report.

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