UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County Police (PGPD) formally charged a man who entered a local elementary school with a grill lighter, making threats upon the staff before robbing them.
Ricard Joseph Campbell, 35, was taken into custody on June 7 and was charged with robbery after he entered Patuxent Elementary School and began making threats toward an office staff member. During the argument, Campbell stole a piece of jewelry before running out of the school.
According to police, Campbell had a grill lighter on him at the time of the incident. A staff member thought that he was carrying a weapon, prompting them to call 911 at around 4:16 p.m. Because of the call, county police reported on their social media accounts that officers were heading to the school for a possible “shooting.”
They began to close down the area around Bishop Mill Road and the surrounding neighborhoods near the school. However, Police Chief Hank Stawinski confirmed that there were no shots fired during the incident and no weapons were found during the police’s sweeps of the school.
“In this day and age, especially in a school boundary, people may think they see things,” Stawinski said. “Even if you didn’t see anything, if you have a concern that something is going on in a school, office building or community and someone is trying to do harm on us, there is something we can do with that.”
Campbell ran into the neighborhood and began taking off articles of clothing. Police used helicopters and asked nearby residents for clues to find him. With the help of home security cameras from residents as well as their K-9 dog unit, PGPD was able to locate Campbell and take him into custody. Nobody was hurt from the interaction with Campbell, and no shots were fired, police officials said.
Mac White, 64, said police interviewed him and several of his neighbors to see if they had seen Campbell. In 14 year of living in the Upper Marlboro neighborhood, White said he has never seen as much activity as there was that afternoon.
“They responded adequately, especially if they thought it was an active shooter,” White said. “This is the first time this has ever happen to us here. This is a quiet, middle-income area and there are a lot of retired people here too. There have been residents that have lived here for years.”
While school was dismissed at 1:45 p.m., there were six students in the building as part of an aftercare program at the time of the incident, Prince George’s County Public Schools Interim CEO Monica Goldson said. Once police officials began sweeping the school, they were escorted out of the building and reunited with their parents in an undisclosed location.
“I would like to thank the Prince George’s County Police Department for quickly arriving at Patuxent Elementary School,” Goldson said. “Because of the swift work of our police department, those students were secured and removed from the facility.”
During a press conference, Stawinski said drugs might have played a role in Campbell’s behavior based on assessing him after taking him into custody and reviewing the school’s security video.
“It is not an excuse, but we think that it contributed to (his actions),” Stawinski said.
According to the Maryland State Department of Education report card, 265 students were enrolled at Patuxent Elementary School in 2018. On the first day back for students and teachers on June 10, Principal Dr. Glenda Washington said she was able to meet with all the members of her staff that were involved in the incident and to check on their well-being.
“Everyone is doing fine and are in good spirits,” Washington said.
School shootings have been in the headlines since the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999 that murdered 12 students and most recently, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida last year. While Prince George’s County has not had a similar incident, students have been found bringing weapons to school. On Oct. 24, 2018, Largo High School was shut down as police officials looked for a student who dropped a handgun on campus.
On January 30, William Wirt Middle School released robocalls to parents to inform them that a BB gun, brass knuckles and a pocket knife were found in a student’s backpack earlier in the month.
“Because of today’s actions, I can guarantee that the children in our other 207 schools will be safe because our police department immediately and quickly got to the scene and to ensure our children were protected,” Goldson said.