Dimond High students, staff, responders took BB gun 'lockdown' seriously

Anchorage Daily NewsJanuary 8, 2013 

Anchorage Police responded to Dimond High for a report of a student with a gun on Tuesday morning, Jan. 8, 2013. Officers found a BB gun in a backpack and took the student into custody.

BILL ROTH — Anchorage Daily News Buy Photo

— Dimond High School senior Alicia Gonzales spent several minutes of her school day Tuesday locked in a large, darkened storage room. This is known as being on "lockdown," and it's how the Anchorage School District responds to gun threats at city schools.

"It freaked us out, because of all the stuff that's been happening," Gonzales said. "Of course we were a little worried."

In this case, it was not a drill.

Police say a 16-year-old Dimond High School student pointed a BB gun resembling a lethal handgun at another student Tuesday morning, prompting the alert. Officers swarmed the school and arrested the teen in the first test of the district's emergency response policies after the Dec. 14 shooting that left 26 people dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Police have not named the Dimond student, who faces charges of making threats, weapons misconduct and assault, a department spokeswoman said. Officers did not know that the firearm -- which closely resembles a Glock .40-caliber pistol -- was a BB gun until the teen surrendered in the middle of a third-period algebra class, police said.

The School District announced it would review the way it responds to reports of weapons on school grounds after the Sandy Hook shootings. Superintendent Jim Browder plans to discuss that review with the school board at a meeting beginning at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the district headquarters, spokeswoman Heidi Embley said.

The district has 16 armed school resource officers (SRO) and a sergeant placed at city schools, a program that helped police quickly locate the student suspected of bringing a gun to Dimond High, said Lt. Garry Gilliam, who leads the program.

"As soon as we knew something, the SRO . . . she coordinated the response very well," Gilliam said. "She was able to direct the officers in. She knew about the location of the suspect. When you start looking at the size of these high schools, that's very important information."

Here's how the encounter began, according to interviews with police and students:

SCHOOL PLACED ON LOCKDOWN

Sometime between first and second period, the 16-year-old pointed what appeared to be a handgun at another teen, Gilliam said.

Gilliam declined to say exactly what the two students said to one another. "They were acquaintances," he said. "They knew one another, but there was no difficulty between the two."

The "victim student" waited about an hour before telling school officials he'd seen the firearm, police said. "The reason the first victim didn't report right away was because the suspect followed him around," Gilliam said.

Dimond High School normally has two school resource officers on campus on any given school day. Only one was on duty Tuesday: Officer Cyndi Addington.

Addington, who said she has worked at the school for about six years and sometimes helps teach technical writing or coach the volleyball team, reported the potential gun threat to the police department at about 9:35 a.m.

Police raced to the school, with 15 officers arriving "within about a minute" of the first report to Anchorage dispatchers, said department spokeswoman Anita Shell.

The school administrator placed students first on "stay put" status, meaning kids were not allowed to leave their classrooms for any reason, according to the district. Minutes later, students said, the school was placed on lockdown by locking classroom doors.

"You close the curtains. You turn off the lights. You go into hiding," Embley said.

It was an unsettling moment for students, said Gonzales. She had been working in the library and was taken with a group of students to wait in a large storage area.

"Over the intercom, they don't give you any information as to what's going on. They just tell you it's an emergency," she said.

'PREPARED FOR A REAL-GUN SITUATION'

Fifty years ago, school kids practiced duck-and-cover drills in hopes of surviving a nuclear attack. In the era of school shootings, the Anchorage School Board requires all schools to hold lockdown drills four times a year.

Each school also must write an "emergency action plan" and make that plan available upon request during business hours, according to the district spokeswoman.

Freshman Julienne Harris was in French class during the lockdown Tuesday. As they waited, students scoured social media feeds for clues, she said. KTUU Channel 2 had tweeted that police were "responding to reports of a student with a gun" at the school.

"You guys, a kid has a gun," someone whispered to Harris. A text appeared from her mom: "Are you OK?"

The boy with the BB gun received a text too, alerting him that police were at the school, said Gilliam, the police lieutenant. Officers are investigating the source of that tip, he said.

Police located the student in a classroom, surrounded by 17 classmates, police said.

"The police officers were armed and they were prepared for a real-gun situation," Gilliam said. "They entered the room and the suspect surrendered immediately."

Officers found the BB gun in a backpack, according to police.

The whole encounter, including the lockdown and arrest, lasted about 15 minutes, Embley said.

Dimond school officials "didn't do anything out of the ordinary" in response to the gun threat, she said. "But what they did do was absolutely the right thing. They didn't try to confront the student."

 

 

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