Riverhead School District

Wave of arrests alarm Riverhead school officials and community

In the wake of the arrests of three Riverhead students on weapons possession charges in less than a week, the school district superintendent announced Tuesday that “any student caught bringing a weapon of any kind on school grounds will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“This could mean police arrest and police record as well as suspension from school up to a year,” Superintendent Augustine Tornatore told concerned parents at the school year’s final Board of Education meeting, “which to our middle school and high school students could have a serious consequence on their future graduation plans.”

Dr. Tornatore also told parents that for the safety of students, most of the district’s year-end ceremonies have been moved indoors. Two Riverhead police officers were in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting, which is unusual.

Violent acts and the threat of more to come have hung like a dark cloud over the school district this spring. On March 28, a Riverhead High School student was assaulted, robbed and stabbed on his way home from school by five individuals in ski masks armed with a knife. Three days later, a 14-year-old student was arrested after bringing more than a dozen .22 caliber bullets to school, an incident that prompted a lockdown that some parents said had terrified their children.

In April, Riverhead High School student Preston Gamble was fatally shot in an off-campus incident for which police have yet to make an arrest or identify a suspect.

A number of parents at Tuesday’s meeting expressed frustration with the school district’s response to the recent string of arrests.

“Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland — I don’t want us to end up like them,” said Amanda Golz of Aquebogue. “As many before me have said, we’ve already lost one student. There’s been way too much violence in our schools.”

Riverhead parent Jim Di Stefano was applauded when he suggested buying metal detectors for the district.

“Okay so [the metal detectors] cost a half a million dollars, we find it,” he said.

Mr. Di Stefano also suggested the district look into outsourcing and hiring private security as well.

Jason Ranghelli, the father of three district students, questioned how relocating moving-up ceremonies and other events indoors would make it any safer for students, faculty and staff.

“We’ve had situations where weapons have been getting inside or they’re getting into our buildings where our children are. How is that helping to make sure that this situation is actually safer right now?” he asked. “We would like to know as parents, what are the security steps that have to be taken — now that our children are in the situation and could be involved in dangerous situations?”

Earlier in the meeting, Dr. Tornatore had said that the board is reevaluating security protocols and plans to increase security for the 2023-24 school year.

Once the plan is in place, he said, “we will update the community to the fullest extent possible, keeping in mind that for security purposes we cannot reveal all of our protocols and practices.”

On Monday, a 13-year-old Riverhead Middle School student was arrested on a weapon possession charge for a bringing a knife to school. Last Friday, two other Riverhead Middle School students, aged 13 and 14, were arrested on weapons possession charges after school officials confiscated two knives and a BB gun.

Local and school officials appeared reluctant this week to address what many parents believe is a growing threat of violence in Riverhead’s school system. Dr. Tornatore, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Councilman Tim Hubbard, who is expected to run for supervisor at the end of Ms. Aguiar’s current term, did not reply to requests for comment on the rash of arrests and attacks that have plagued the schools this spring.