Man Arrested Outside Elementary School With Gun and Hollow-Point Bullets, Police Say

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It was late Thursday afternoon when the police in a suburban New Jersey town got a tip from a police department in Delaware: A man might be headed to a school there and could be armed.

Within minutes, police officers in Westfield, N.J., about an hour west of New York City, arrived at the building, Tamaques Elementary School, and discovered a man in a sport utility vehicle in the parking lot. He was armed with a .45-caliber handgun loaded with hollow point bullets and had 130 rounds of ammunition in the trunk.

The school was placed on lockdown and the man, Thomas J. Wilkie, 46, of Bear, Del., was arrested. The authorities said his intentions were unclear.

The school was dismissed at 3:05 p.m., but after-school programs were in session at the time of the arrest, according to the Westfield Police Department. The lockdown was lifted after an extended security sweep, and students were allowed to leave at 5:32 p.m.

The Westfield police received the tip about the man around 3:55 p.m. from the New Castle County Police Department in Delaware, according to a statement from the Union County prosecutor’s office in New Jersey.

News of the arrest rocked the tight-knit town, with people flooding local Facebook groups to express gratitude to the police, as well as alarm that a potential tragedy came so close to befalling their community.

On Thursday night, parents had been notified about what happened through a Facebook post on the Westfield Police Department’s official account.

“Thank you for a job well done,” wrote one woman who identified herself as a parent of a Tamaques student.

But, she said, she was “still worried” and wanted more information. “If you could provide any more details, I would feel safer sending my child to school tomorrow,’’ she wrote. “What was the man’s intent? And will he be released?”

The Westfield police and local prosecutors declined to provide more details.

There was a heavy police presence at the elementary school on Friday, and school counselors and members of the local education board were also on hand.

Westfield is a wealthy suburb of about 30,000 residents in northern New Jersey. Tamaques has about 400 students in first through fifth grades and is one of six elementary schools in the town.

The school has an active shooter plan and holds regular drills, according to school officials.

Mr. Wilkie was charged with second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, fourth-degree possession of hollow-point bullets and fourth-degree trespassing on school grounds.

A Facebook page belonging to Mr. Wilkie indicated that he had recently become homeless and was living in his car.

On Tuesday, Mr. Wilkie wrote a number of posts hinting that he was struggling, including “Guess my friends don’t care about my safety and well being!” and “Guess I never mattered to anyone.”

He was being held in a Union County jail until his first court appearance, scheduled for Wednesday. Messages left for his lawyer were not immediately answered.

Nick Corasaniti is a New Jersey-based correspondent, covering the politics, policy, people, trains, beaches and eccentricities that give the Garden State its charm. A New Jersey native, he previously covered presidential campaigns for The Times. @NYTnickc Facebook

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