The Woodward News

April 1, 2013

Local school locked down briefly

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — A 15-year-old boy was arrested Monday after he was seen walking around a local elementary school carrying airsoft pellet guns.

Highland Park Elementary school was placed under an approximately 45-minute lockdown around noon Monday while police took the juvenile into custody and investigated the incident.

Woodward School Resource Officer Jack Brown said that school Principal Angela Rhoades contacted him after she had received reports from some of the residents living around the school about "a kid in full camo carrying guns."

Brown said Rhoades then told him that she had placed the school in lockdown after she looked out and saw the individual in the parking lot.

"I told her to keep the school in lockdown as I contacted the rest of the police department.  And I had the fire department and EMS also respond 2 blocks away just in case," Brown said.

He said that fortunately "we had no reports of any shots fired or any injuries."

Brown said fellow School Resource Officer Chris Woods arrived on scene first and held the juvenile at gunpoint while other officers responded.

The juvenile was then immediately placed in investigatory detention.

But after officers discovered that he indeed had an airsoft handgun and 2 airsoft rifles in his possession, the boy was placed under arrest for carrying a weapon on school property. He was later taken to the Community Intervention Center, which is where juvenile offenders are taken while awaiting release to their parents or another agency.

"Anything that can fire a projectile is considered a weapon," Brown said.

After detaining the juvenile, officers conducted a walk-around and walk-through of the school to ensure there were no additional potential threats.

The police have not released the juvenile's name, but have said the boy is not a student of the Woodward Public School District.

When he spoke with The News at the scene, Brown said he hadn't yet conducted a full interview with the teen.

However, he said the boy had told officers that he was in the area around the school because he had planned to meet a friend at a home near 28th St. and Cheyenne Ave.

Woodward Superintendent Tim Merchant said that "as far as we know he was going to a nearby field to meet up with friends to play airsoft war games."

"At no time in this situation was there a direct threat to the students," Merchant said.



A TEACHING MOMENT

However, both the superintendent and Officer Brown said that the juvenile carrying the weapons could have been hurt.

"I know they're airsoft guns, but they look real," Brown said.  "I told him (the juvenile), 'you don't know how close you came to being hurt because even the neighbors saw you and thought you had real firearms.'"

Officer Woods commented that one of the airsoft rifles "looks just like an AR-14."

"I feel so strongly for law enforcement officials when they're faced with a situation like this because of the realistic look that so many of these toy guns have," Merchant said.

The superintendent continued, "In a situation such as this I feel pretty strongly fortunate that the young man is still alive and that it turned out the way it did. Because when law enforcement officials respond to a situation they cannot tell at a distance.  You cannot tell until close inspection whether it's real or airsoft or a play gun."

But as school safety procedures have evolved in response to numerous school shootings, Merchant said that "officers and schools are forced to react to the situation as if it were a real gun."

Which as Brown has told school personnel in previous intruder response training scenarios held earlier this year, can sometimes mean shooting first and asking questions later if officers perceive an active threat.

Merchant said that the situation at Highland Park on Monday "is a definite teaching time for parents to understand the atmosphere and world of school safety today."

"It's just a point of caution to parents to talk their kids if they allow them to have airsoft or bb guns or even a toy gun. Parents need to teach children when and where those types of toys can be out and played with," the superintendent said.  "Because not knowing puts their children in danger, especially when it's around schools or other known live shooter situation climates such as churches or movie theaters."



A QUICK RESPONSE

Following Monday's incident, Merchant said he sent out a message to students' parents using an AlertNow notification system.

While Highland Park was the only school placed on lockdown, Merchant said, "We sent out a district-wide message to let everyone know and provide clarification on which school was involved."

In the AlertNow message, the superintendent said he notified parents of the situation and how the elementary school had been placed on lockdown while law enforcement officials responded to reports of an individual dressed in camouflage, carrying weapons on school property.

"Then we said that he was apprehended and everything was clear," Merchant said.

He explained that only one notification was sent out to parents because "everything happened so quickly that by the time I could have gotten around to getting a message out about the incident, it was all over."

The superintendent said that he commends school personnel and local law enforcement for their quick response to the situation.

"I'm extremely, extremely pleased with our school personnel.  Angela Rhoades and the entire school responded quickly and correctly," he said.  "I'm also pleased with the rapid response of not just our school resource officers but law enforcement as a whole, with the police department and sheriff's office responding to secure the whole school."