The Montpelier Police Department has been investigating a school bus shooting in which a shot allegedly fired from the vicinity of a homeless encampment “shot out” the windshield on the driver’s side of a U-32 Middle and High School bus on Thursday, Oct. 26. No one was harmed, but police said they confiscated eight guns from the encampment.
Three people were detained and interviewed after the shooting, police said, but no arrests have been made. The city cleared out the encampment Friday night, Oct. 27, according to City Manager William Fraser.
On Friday afternoon, police reenacted Thursday’s shooting at the railroad crossing where the incident took place, according to Deputy Chief Kevin Moulton. Asked if police have any leads, Moulton replied “We have several, nothing that I can share yet.”
The Thing No Parent Wants to Hear
Julie Bond, co-director of the Good Samaritan Haven, first heard about the incident from her son, a U-32 student riding in the bus directly in front of the one hit by the gunshot.
“My son’s bus was just in front of the one that got struck,” Bond said. Her son immediately texted Bond, letting her know he was OK, but a bus had been hit.
“The exact thing any parent never wants to hear,” she said. “It’s never a call that I ever want to receive as a parent. But after I knew everyone was safe and unaffected and unharmed I was just deeply grateful about the situation.”
Bond’s co-director, Rick DeAngelis, said he and his colleagues at the Good Samaritan Haven were well aware of the encampment at the former FEAST Farm, and they were not affiliated with it. With the homeless shelters full, and an end to the pandemic-era hotel program that provided shelter for hundreds of families, DeAngelis, Bond, and their peers have been helping people without housing find camping sites to get through the warm months. But “we had concerns about that group,” DeAngelis said. “We were in communication with the police about them, and there was some information that was definitely of concern,” DeAngelis said. “At least one person had guns and he seemed to like to display them.”
“They’ve cleared the site, and we’re in support of that,” he added. “And we’re not sure it’s a good idea for anyone to be down there.”
A Significant Delay
The Montpelier Police Department reported a “significant delay” between the shooting and when the police department was notified. First Student, the company that provides busing to U-32, “removed the students, changed buses, and returned to their headquarters prior to law enforcement arrival,” police said.
“The safety of our employees and the students we transport is a responsibility we take very seriously. We are thankful no one was hurt in the incident,” said Jen Biddinger, First Student communications manager, in an email to The Bridge. “We are working collaboratively with police, and since this is an active investigation, we are not able to comment further.”
Up until the July flood, people had been camping on the property, which is next to the Winooski River off Route 2 near Agway where the city-run FEAST Farm had been located, although the city does not own the property. After the flood, FEAST Farm was relocated to the city’s Country Club Road property, but the encampment returned, and apparently grew.
Incidents Were Escalating
In the days and weeks leading up to the shooting, reports of incidents coming from the encampment had been “escalating” according to David Ide, owner of Montpelier Agway, next door to the site. It didn’t register as an issue to the farm-and-garden business until this week, when “they started to yell at us that ‘we hear you’ and ‘shut up’ and things like that,” Ide said. “They cross our parking lot all the time” and have started using the Agway nursery water supply to wash clothes, he said.
But Ide said it wasn’t until recently — when he noticed “they’re starting to build things there, and they’re entering the old house and … breaking windows” — that he started contacting the city of Montpelier to voice his concerns. After several phone calls, he said, he was able to reach Fraser on Friday.
According to the release, the Montpelier assessor shows the owner of the property as Food Works, a Vermont nonprofit organization, and added “the owner of the property has not requested the removal of the encampment since it has been established.” A Facebook post however says food works disbanded in 2014; the The organization’s Facebook page’s last post is dated Sept. 22, 2013 and its website link no longer works.
“The city did not approve camping on the site because it is not owned by the city,” Fraser wrote in an email to The Bridge. “Our policy calls for tolerance unless people are being disruptive.”
Police also said they are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives on the investigation as well as with U-32 staff, the Vermont State Police, Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Berlin Police Department to further the investigation.
Police ask that anyone with additional information contact the MPD at 802-223-3445.