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High School Closed by Gas

Prankster Releases Unknown Spray in Ventilation System

By Andrew S. Chang

Students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School were evacuated and sent home early Thursday morning after an unknown gas spread through the school's buildings.

The school sent 14 students complaining of nausea, light-headedness and throat irritation to Cambridge City Hospital and Mt. Auburn Hospital for evaluation and canceled class, according to Jim Ball, director of public information for Cambridge schools.

"People were coughing badly, and you couldn't breathe without problems," said student Emily J. Griffin, 16.

Another student, Rachel A. Deutsch, 17, said she helped a friend with breathing problems seek help.

"A friend of mine, who has asthma, had a really bad asthma attack, and I took her down to the nurse," Deutsch said.

All students and staff were evacuated from school buildings at approximately 11:30 a.m., Ball said.

Although officials have not yet identified the cause, Deputy Fire Chief John J. Gelinas said pepper spray or mace may have been sprayed into the school's ventilation system. Gelinas said that a student or students might have been the perpetrators.

Gelinas said the fire department tested the buildings for hazardous gases such as carbon monoxide and natural gas but detected none. Pepper spray and mace are not considered hazardous gases, however, so the tests did not rule out those possibilities.

"We had [fire department personnel] check out the HVAC (heating ventilation and air-conditioning) system, and they can't detect any gases," Ball said.

According to Ball, "there was no detectable odor of gas," but student accounts differed.

"There was a smell and it wasn't good," said Laz V. Morrison, 14, a first-year student at the high school.

According to Ball, the gas seemed to originate from the third floor of the Rindge building and remained isolated in the upper floors of the building, which consist of classrooms.

Ball said the school would not be reopened until further tests were completed. He said he hopes the school can be reopened today.

Ball said he was still awaiting the arrival of environmental engineers, who were supposed to conduct further tests yesterday afternoon.

Thursday was the first day of classes after the winter break for Rindge and Latin students. Wednesday classes had been canceled due to inclement weather.

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