School, law enforcement hoping to learn from false gun scare at North Davis Junior High School
Tom Smart, Deseret News
CLEARFIELD — Davis County school officials say the faculty at North Davis Junior High School reacted quickly and responsibly to a false threat of a gunman Tuesday, and they're planning to meet with law enforcement to review the incident.
North Davis Junior High was placed in lockdown Tuesday after a caller inside the school reported that a gunman was on the property. The call, which authorities believe to have been a prank, launched a massive police response as the school was searched room by room and eventually evacuated.
Nearby schools South Davis Elementary and Clearfield High were also placed on lockdown as a precaution.
Based on the tips of classmates, police arrested a 13-year-old boy in connection with the prank and booked him into the Farmington Bay Youth Detention Center. The boy faces possible felony charges.
On Wednesday, Clearfield Police Sgt. Kyle Jeffries said the Davis County Attorney's Office was in the process of screening charges against the student, who is believed to have acted alone but gave little indication to police of his motivations.
"All indications were it was done by this one individual," Jeffries said. "He didn’t give any information as to why he would have done it."
All three schools were back in session Wednesday, Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams said, and law enforcement and school officials were planning to meet Thursday to review their responses to the incident.
"We’re going to be meeting with the agencies who were involved with this situation," he said.
Williams said it is district procedure to review threats to school safety, such as Tuesday's false gunman or an incident in April where a device resembling a pipe bomb was found on the roof of Mountain View Elementary School in Layton.
Williams said those events offer a chance to review safety procedures, as well as determine what worked well and what could have been improved in the response of officials.
"If we don’t do that, we can’t get better at what we do," he said. "Every situation is one that should be reviewed."
Christina Winkler, a seventh-grade student at North Davis Junior High, said there was a noticeably large number of students who did not return to school Wednesday. She said it was strange returning to school and to the classroom where she spent roughly an hour on lockdown waiting for news.
"It was terrible," she said of the school day Wednesday. "Kids were missing, people were suspicious and rumors just were flying all over the place because people were frightened. Not one conversation came up today without somebody mentioning what happened yesterday."
Christina described the lockdown and subsequent SWAT team search and evacuation as traumatizing, saying students were anxiously looking for friends and family once outside the school.
Students were searched for weapons and instructed to exit the school with their hands in the air, she said. After it became clear the threat had been a hoax, there was a lot of anger and confusion.
"Emotions were all over the place," she said. "We didn’t know what to think. Nobody felt that it was OK that somebody caused a SWAT team to come into our school."
Kate Rustad, another seventh-grade student, said she began to worry soon after the lockdown began, as it was clear they were not participating in a drill. She said she was "full of tears" when she finally made her way out of the building.
"I got really scared because I couldn’t find my sister and I couldn’t find my best friend," she said. "When I saw my mom, I ran to her and we just started crying."
Kate said her teacher acted quickly to lock down the classroom and did what he could to keep students relaxed while they waited.
"He helped us stay calm," she said. "He would try to lighten the mood and make something funny."
Williams said students and faculty at North Davis Junior High reacted quickly and appropriately to Tuesday's scare. He said schools regularly hold lockdown drills to help teachers gain the habits of responding to an emergency.
"With one exception, and that exception would be the kid who made the prank phone call, everyone acted very responsibly," he said. "I don’t think the teachers could have moved any quicker. They did everything they could because their top priority was to keep the kids safe, and they did a fantastic job."
Following the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 26 students and teachers, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and state education officials initiated a statewide review of school safety.
Mark Peterson, Utah State Office of Education spokesman, said each school district and charter school was asked to provide a report of its safety procedures, which will be compiled and delivered to the governor by July 1.
"We’ve just now got it, and we’re sifting through it for a report to the governor," Peterson said.
The intention of the report, he said, is to identify best practices and improve the overall safety of schools in the state. Peterson also said it represents to parents, students and school staff that the question of safety is being addressed and taken seriously.
In addition to the potential charges facing the student, Williams said the boy also will be subject to disciplinary action from the district. He said district policy allows a student to be held out of school for 10 days before having their case reviewed by a district student services committee.
But with classes ending next week, Williams said a final decision on the student's academic future may not arrive until the fall.
"That decision may be taken out of our hands," he said. "It may not be a decision we deal with until the start of a new school year."
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