Students safe after unfounded report of gun at Lawrence middle school; worried parent broke window to pull kids out
photo by: Kim Callahan
Story updated at 5:52 p.m. Tuesday
A parent worried about his daughter’s safety broke a window late Tuesday morning at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School and helped pull several students out after he heard a report that someone with a gun was in the school.
The report turned out to be a “miscommunication,” said Patrick Compton, a spokesman for the Lawrence Police Department. There was no threat, and there was no gun, Compton said. He said he was not sure how the miscommunication — which led to the school being placed on lockdown — occurred but that parents “were understandably worried.”
Five students were seen by paramedics for minor cuts from the broken window, said Julie Boyle, a spokeswoman for the Lawrence school district. Police said no students were taken to the hospital.
One of the parents gathered in front of the school after the incident told the Journal-World that he and another person broke the window. The parent, Kevin Green, said he took the action after his daughter, who was “a little freaked out,” called him at 11:18 a.m.
“My daughter was in there, and there was zero information,” he said. “The kids heard there was an intruder and the substitute didn’t know anything.” He said his daughter said the door to the room was “still open.”
Green, who lives a few minutes’ drive from the school, said no police were on the premises when he and another man arrived. He said the man he was with called 911 to report the incident. Green said he spoke through the window to his daughter’s substitute and decided to break the window to get the kids out.
Although he was pleased with the work of the police when they arrived, he said that he was frustrated by what he called a lack of communication from the school, and he thinks the situation “was not handled well.”
“It was being communicated as ‘no big deal, we have it under control,’ and that wasn’t the case,” he said.
photo by: Kim Callahan
Police were called to the school shortly before 11:30 a.m. and found the concerned parents attempting to help students exit the broken first-floor window at the front of the building. Compton said police quickly determined that the report was a miscommunication.
“We’re still trying to figure out what happened. Parents are kind of freaking out, and that’s what we’re dealing with right now,” Compton said Tuesday at the scene.
When asked if someone had been detained in connection with the incident, he said, “There was an individual that the school was concerned about,” but he emphasized that there was no threat or gun and provided no further information on the individual, except to say that police had no one in custody.
In a news release later Tuesday he elaborated that students had “voiced concerns to school administrators that another student had possibly brought a gun to school. The administrators began questioning the child, and as a precaution, put the school on lockdown. Parents began calling 911 after receiving concerning text messages from students and proceeded to the school in (an) attempt to take their children home.”
photo by: Kim Callahan
At least seven police vehicles were seen at the school around 11:40 a.m., and a group of police, parents and students were gathered outside. A steady stream of parents arrived at the school to check on their children, many of whom appeared to be emotional. Later Tuesday, Boyle told the Journal-World that 81 students went home early. The school’s total enrollment this year is 540, she said.
An ambulance was also at the scene, and an officer explained to the group that some parents had broken a window and pulled some students out after hearing about the reported threat. Medics on scene were attending to children or adults who had blood or cuts from the glass.
Sharyn Harley, who has a daughter at the school, owns OmTree Shala across the street and went outside when she heard police arrive.
“I saw cops running into my child’s school, then more cops,” she said.
Harley said she was taking her daughter, a seventh grader, home from school for the day.
“I’m really grateful everybody’s OK,” she said.
The school had resumed its normal schedule for the day as of 12:18 p.m., Boyle said. “All students and staff are safe and returning to classes.”
When asked for the district’s thoughts on a parent breaking a window, Boyle emphasized that schools have specific plans for lockdown situations.
“We can certainly understand a parent’s fear for their child’s safety,” she said. “Our schools have crisis plans in place. We practice those plans through regular safety drills with students and staff. During a lockdown, for the safety of students and staff, no one except law enforcement may enter the building. We ask for parents’ cooperation with these procedures for the safety of everyone involved.”
Boyle said that in these situations the district notifies families “by phone and email as soon as information is received.” In addition, she said, “we posted alerts on the district and the school website, shared updates through the district’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and sent information to area media outlets.”
Green, who broke the window, said better communication and procedures needed to be discussed communitywide.
“Let’s acknowledge that today did not go well and talk about how we can make it better,” he said.
If the exact situation arose tomorrow, he said, “I’d do the same thing.”
— Reporter Dylan Lysen contributed to this report.