Students Shelter at Beth-El due to Gas Leak


Gabby Nyquist

BSM students waited in the synagogue for more information about the gas leak.

Lucy Loes and Brynja Lockman

At around 8:33 am on December 19th, BSM students were startled by Principal Stephanie Nitchals’ voice over the loudspeaker: there was a gas leak in the building. Students needed to grab their coats and backpacks and evacuate to Beth El synagogue immediately. Everyone raced through the halls, grabbed their things out of lockers, and hustled out the door. We wrote this on a friend’s laptop in a meeting room at Beth El. Amid the chaos, we, like many others, weren’t able to grab our backpacks or laptops. 

Earlier that day, students in the Junior High had smelled something suspiciously like gas, and even some in the freshman hallway noticed the smell. Sophomore David Birch said that his theology class actually called in to report the smell of gas. “My class actually said something about it. We said we smelled a weird smell and Ms. Meagher agreed and called the mechanic,” Birch said. 

Students rushed to get their belongings before hurrying out to the synagogue. Some even went back to their lockers. “I just grabbed my satchel really quick and went for the door… I was nervous, anxious, [and] a little fired up, so I just got out of the building as quickly as I could,” junior Mason McElroy said.  

I was nervous, anxious, [and] a little fired up, so I just got out of the building as quickly as I could,

— Mason Mcelroy

Many, like senior Eleanor Hutcheson, were initially shocked by the announcement. “[Ms. Nitchals’s] voice was very shaky and she didn’t get it out right away so I was like, ‘oh my god’…when she said that I got actually really nervous,” Hutcheson said. 

Most students’ schedules were interrupted by the incident. Students and staff had to leave in the middle of tests and projects, forcing teachers to find other times for the classwork. Jeff Cohen, AP U.S. History teacher, said that his 1st hour class couldn’t finish their tests. “[T]he leak made it very challenging to ensure everyone could finish their tests before break. I had to piece together times for everyone to get in to finish like during an open hour, before school, [or] after school,” Cohen said. 

However, other students, like freshman Philip Rhoden, were glad about missing class. Rhoden missed French, where he was watching a movie. While he was able to get his backpack and laptop, some of his friends left everything in the classroom. Once at Beth El, he wondered why school wasn’t canceled. “Why can’t we go?” Rhoden said. 

Students and teachers filled the rooms of the synagogue, and some even sat on the floor. Some students were calling their parents or trying to find friends. Some, like Rhoden, were wondering when they would be able to leave. After everyone arrived in the synagogue, Nitchals told the students and teachers that Centerpoint Energy mechanics had arrived to deal with the situation. To a chorus of cheers, she promised that if the situation wasn’t resolved in thirty minutes, everyone would be allowed to return home. 

Thirty minutes later, the clamor arose again, but this time for a different reason. The mechanics had determined that the building was safe to return to, and Nitchals announced that everyone was to return to their first hour class. 

In the words of senior Tory Hatcher, “Only at Benilde-St. Margaret’s.”