BB gun-carrying youths cause stir in Springside Park neighborhood

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PITTSFIELD — A spate of incidents in and around Springside Park, including menacing behavior by kids armed with BB guns, have residents calling for action by authorities.

The incidents, which have taken place in recent weeks, also have raised alarm at the nearby Reid Middle School, where at least some of the offenders are believed to be students.

Schools Superintendent Jason McCandless delayed the release of Reid students on Thursday after hearing reports of someone "coming to cause harm at the school."

A day earlier, a Reid student landed in the emergency room after an incident, which police characterized as a fight, but McCandless described as an attack.

The extent of the student's injury was not clear.

"Last we heard, he was OK," said McCandless, who noted the incident might have been emotionally traumatic. "It was not good."

In a robocall Thursday, he assured families that anyone with a weapon or otherwise starting fights in school will face discipline.

Tales of roving groups of young people have bubbled up in public spaces and on social media platforms over the last two weeks. A heavy police presence at Reid on Thursday further stoked fears.

McCandless said he suspects Wednesday's incident involved the same group of 20 to 40 teens and pre-teens that have been causing trouble in the Springside Park area. But police were not so sure.

"We believe the centrally involved students in the fight to be separate from those involved in the Springside Park incidents," Pittsfield Police Lt. Gary Traversa told The Eagle.

Parent Breanna Santiago told The Eagle her 8-year-old daughter had a BB gun pressed to her face last week as she played at Springside Park. She thought it was a real gun, she said, and the person wielding it threatened to shoot.

"She's having nightmares, saying 'Mommy I can still feel the gun on my face,'" she said.

Santiago knows the kids behind it all, she said, because she taught some of them in her role as a substitute teacher.

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They've also been smashing bottles in people's driveways and starting fires, she said.

She reported the incident with her daughter to police — as well as the destruction of a homeless man's tent in Springside Park — but said she was told by officers that "their hands were tied."

Traversa said recent changes changes in policy have stripped police officers of authority when it comes to juveniles. He would not be more specific about the changes.

"In responding to complaints of juveniles with BB type guns, absent an assault, we are limited [by the new policy]," he said in an email.

Santiago said she feels for the police — and for the kids.

"I think a lot of it is how adults are coming at these kids," she said. "But at this point it's out of control."

Those who live in the Springside neighborhoods say there have also been other violent incidents, but they're unsure if it's the same group of kids. Traversa did not answer a question about how many calls the department has received about this problem.

McCandless said he believes some Reid students are among the offenders, but there are others who do not attend the school.

The school currently doesn't have a dedicated school resource officer, but McCandless said officers do rotate in and out as they're able.

Two city women, Kathy Austin and Lisa Donovan, talked about recent encounters during the School Committee's meeting on Wednesday. They asked school officials to educate students and families about the dangers city kids are causing with gun lookalikes before someone gets seriously hurt.

They first saw the group of teens and preteens emerge while students were off of school last week, they said.

McCandless agreed after the meeting that some action was in order.

"I think we need to do some education for kids and families," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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