By Nancy Arsenault
Zachary Gross, 17, of Stow is awaiting trial on felony charges of armed robbery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy, unlawful possession of a firearm and kidnapping. After posting $5,000 bail, Gross spent the summer on house arrest. While the courts determine if his case will be heard in District or Superior Court, Gross attends daily classes at Nashoba Regional High School, his whereabouts monitored by a GPS ankle bracelet.
Stow Police report that parents have been calling and coming to the station, concerned about the presence of this student at the high school, the safety of other students and the environment that such a situation could create within the classrooms or school building.
According to the incident report filed by Sudbury Police in Framingham District Court, on June 30th, Gross and Stow resident Lucas Estabrook, also 17, along with an unnamed Bolton minor, drove to the home of a 16-yr-old Sudbury girl. The girl had arranged to purchase marijuana from a Framingham man, who was to come to her home with the drug. With her were two other Sudbury minors. A third 17-yr-old, Jonathan Weiss of Hudson, had arranged with the girl to rob the drug dealer after he arrived at the home. Weiss recruited the Stow teens and Bolton youth to pull off the caper.
As the group awaited the alleged drug dealer on the back deck of the Sudbury home, Weiss hid inside the house. After the dealer gave the marijuana to the girl and asked for his money, Gross pulled a handgun from his pocket, cocked it and pointed it at the man, ordering him to sit down. The report stated that while Gross held the man at gunpoint, Weiss allegedly ran to the dealer’s car, broke in and stole a GPS device.
Within minutes, the Framingham man fled from the deck. Gross and his friends took chase, cornering him at his car where Estabrook smashed the window before the dealer could eventually flee, according to the Sudbury incident report.
A few days later, the entire group was arrested, except for the alleged drug dealer. Sudbury Police explained that they had not charged him as he would most likely plead the fifth, and thus there would be no witness to the crimes. By not charging the dealer, as he would only be charged with a misdemeanor due to the amount of drug being sold, he could instead serve as a witness to the more serious crimes committed by the Stow youths. Estabrook has been charged with armed robbery, wanton destruction of property and conspiracy for his role in the incident.
School District Response
As the entire group awaits trial, actions taken by the two school districts where the students are enrolled has differed. In Sudbury, all of the students involved were immediately suspended and prevented from returning to school in September. At Nashoba, Gross returned to school and the 16-yr-old Bolton youth is reportedly also at school. The district would not confirm or deny if Estabrook is attending classes.
The Lincoln-Sudbury school district did not return calls from The Stow Independent, but Michael Wood, Nashoba Superintendent, commented that no two school districts are alike and the way in which one district handles an incident is not necessarily how another should handle a similar incident.
According to Massachusetts General Law, “Upon the issuance of a criminal complaint charging a student with a felony or upon the issuance of a felony delinquency complaint against a student, the principal or headmaster of a school in which the student is enrolled may suspend such student for a period of time determined appropriate by said principal or headmaster if said principal or headmaster determines that the student’s continued presence in school would have a substantial detrimental effect on the general welfare of the school.”
Superintendent Wood contends that this situation has not caused a disturbance at the school. “A disturbance would be something where a teacher could not teach or students could not learn,” said Wood.
After consulting with the District’s attorney and discussing the matter with the high school administration, the decision was made to allow Gross to attend school. Wood says his past experience with these types of situations played into his decision. “We don’t take this lightly, but unfortunately, it’s not all that unique to have students who make bad choices,” said Wood.
As for parents’ concerns, Wood said, “It has to be more than someone just saying ‘I feel unsafe’. There has to be an issue we can point to objectively. I have heard no reports of bullying or incidents occurring because of this situation. If something does happen, parents and students should come forward. If my office receives a large volume of calls from parents, then my work is potentially disrupted, the work of my staff is disrupted,” said Wood, alluding to the statute language that says a student may be removed from the school if his presence causes a disruption. “Right now, I have not been called at great length,” he said.
“We are constantly monitoring the situation and if it comes to the point we feel it is causing a disruption, we would address that,” he concluded. “Remember, someone has just been charged. That does not mean they are necessarily guilty.”
Stow Police said that the case resides with the Sudbury Police and the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, and is out of their jurisdiction. Any action taken at the high school and circumstances that occur because of it, also fall outside their jurisdiction and become the responsibility of the Bolton Police Department, whom Wood said has been informed of his decision.
Stow Police Chief Bill Bosworth said that immediately following the arrest of the Stow youths, and learning of the involvement of a gun in the crimes, he investigated the gun permits assigned to both the Gross and Estabrook homes.
While both fathers have gun permits and gun collections, all of the parents’ guns were accounted for and determined to have not been the weapon involved in the crime. The fathers’ gun collections were also properly secured, so no violations of their own Class A permits were recorded. According to Bosworth, both teens have Firearm Identification Cards which are issued to youths over age 15, who may use a firearm with a parent’s permission. Those permits can only be revoked upon conviction of a crime, and not merely a charge of a crime, he said.
As for Gross, his ankle bracelet reports his whereabouts to the probation department. He is scheduled for a status hearing in mid-October.