A 14-year-old girl discharged a small canister of pepper spray at a Chicago public school on Wednesday, causing 26 students to complain of various symptoms.
The kerfuffle unfolded at approximately 12:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at John L. Marsh Elementary School (grades pre-K to 8) in the farthest reaches of Chicago’s South Side, reports the Chicago Tribune.
The girl was standing in the lunch line with the pepper spray canister around her neck, explains CBS Chicago. Another 14-year-old girl pressed a button on the canister, which resulted in pepper spray spewing forth.
“This girl had pepper spray and this other girl was, like, ‘Is it real?’ So she sprayed the floor…and everybody started choking,” student Karina Garibay told CBS Chicago.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford told the Tribune that the complaining began with just two students. They inhaled a “pepper spray type material” and “it got into their breathing passages.”
At least five ambulances were dispatched to the school and they arrived fairly quickly.
It’s not clear if the first two sick students were the two girls. Whatever the case, a couple dozen additional students eventually said they felt sick enough for medical treatment as well.
“A lot of kids’ stomachs started hurting and heads started hurting,” said Garibay.
Groups of sick students were taken to four different hospitals, according to the fire department.
Three students suffered relatively serious effects from the pepper spray as a result of allergies or maybe asthma. Emergency personnel classified those kids as in fair condition. The rest of the hospitalized students were in good condition—and they got the afternoon off to boot.
Some parents were angry that school officials at Marsh Elementary failed to inform them about the incident.
“We had to find out when we got here,” said Auturo Marin, according to CBS Chicago. “It’s frustrating to find out that they can’t even notify you.”
Marin’s son was among the children treated at the hospital.
Last school year, in January, a 13-year-old boy brought a gun and some ammunition to the same school and school officials didn’t bother to notify parents.
A statement from the Chicago Public Schools said: “This was an unfortunate accident and school officials took the appropriate steps to ensure the well-being of all students.”