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Children back in class at G. Weaver Hipps following discharge of irritant at school dance, investigation continues
February 12, 2019

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Students were back in class at at G. Weaver Hipps Elementary School Monday following an incident that sent 13 people to the hospital Friday after an irritant was discharged at a school dance.

The dozen or so affected, most of them children, reported eye irritation or difficulty breathing.

The school was a hosting a schoolwide dance for students and their parents and guardians when the irritant, which officials say was likely pepper spray, was discharged in the cafeteria.

"We attended the dance with my daughter and brought our young son. Shortly after the dance started, we noticed a strange odor and my young son began to cough. Other children started to cough and had trouble breathing. People started to rush out of the building," said parent Lorraine Read.

The "friendship dance," which started at 5 p.m. and was supposed to go on until 7 p.m., was cut short as dance attendees were either transported to the hospital with minor eye irritation and breathing difficulties or detained by officials investigating the incident.

About 400 parents, students, and staff were at the dance and the majority was held in a gated area outside of the school following the incident.

"We were held for a couple of hours while deputies and fire personnel assessed the situation. It was definitely frustrating not knowing what was going on and the kids were scared," said Reads.

Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District, along with Lee County deputies and EMS were the responding agencies.

"The assumption is that it was pepper spray. Pepper spray goes a long way once it's disseminated. We had a county hazmat team there to clear the school and test for irritants or any other air quality issues. The school was cleared to open, but the exact substance used is still unknown at this time," said Lehigh Acres Fire District Chief Robert DiLallo.

A hazmat team was brought in to investigate over the weekend and test air quality, he said, adding the investigation is now in the hands of Lee County Sheriff's Office.

"We currently have an investigation open to determine what type of irritant was released and who released it. That's all we can release at this time," said Tiffany Wood, LCSO spokesperson.

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