Hundreds of terrified students had to cower in a section of St Jago High School in Rivoli, St Catherine, as a fierce gun battle between the police and hoodlums spilled on to the school grounds shortly after midday yesterday.
With a Jamaica Defence Force helicopter hovering overhead and the constant sound of gunfire throughout the 90-minute ordeal, principal Sandra Swyer-Watson said some of the traumatised students began fainting.
"(The school) nurse was very active in helping out. Some students were quite traumatised and a couple of them fainted," she told reporters shortly after all the students were ushered from the school under heavy police protection.
"We had to calm them down. We spoke to them and we said some prayers and many of the parents called and were talking to their children," added Swyer-Watson as she explained some of the methods used to console the students.
However, Swyer-Watson called it an "isolated incident" and said she expected that classes would resume today.
"Children have to learn to be resilient. During the CXC (Caribbean Examinations Council) exams last year, people were doing the exams under gunfire and we have to train them to be resilient," she insisted.
When they were released shortly after 4 p.m., the students walked briskly along Monk Street, some still too shaken to speak to reporters.
"Gunshots were firing all 'bout the place and everybody was scared and running to the auditorium," said one student, who told The Gleaner he was sitting an examination when the shooting started.
In a statement last night, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who is also the minister of education, said counsellors from the education ministry would be at the school this morning to provide support for students and teachers.
Holness said he was disturbed to learn that an educational institution could be placed in such grave danger by "marauding criminals" using the school compound to evade the police.
He said Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington had been instructed to provide additional security within the area to ensure that school would return to normality and no more school days would be lost for the school term.
The People's National Party also urged residents and business owners in the affected areas to remain calm as the police carry out their duties to bring the situation under control.
100 police and soldiers
Senior Superintendent of Police Winchroy Budhu, who led the operation, said almost 100 police and soldiers had to be brought in to quell the situation by mid-afternoon.
Budhu said the "sustained" gunfire, which lasted close to three hours, started after heavily armed gunmen fired on a police team that was on patrol in the St Jago community.
However, he dismissed reports that students from St Jago High were held hostage during the incident.
The St Catherine North Police Division, in a statement released late yesterday, said the notorious Clansman gang was behind the attacks.
The statement said gang members also staged attacks on the police in the Rio Cobre area.