March 4, 2013

Norridgewock school locked down over erroneous gunman report Monday

Two first-graders told a teacher they saw a man with a rifle outside the school around 8:30 a.m., but police say there was no such threat

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

NORRIDGEWOCK —  As word of a lockdown at Mill Stream Elementary School swept through town, more than 100 parents, many of them in tears, crowded around a police perimeter in lightly falling snow and waited to hear news from inside the school. 

click image to enlarge

Ruth Perkins speaks with police as parents assemble outside the entrance of the Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock following a report of a man with a rifle nearby on Monday. Police searched the area but did not locate a suspect. Referring to her grandchildren, Perkins said," I just want to get them in my arms."

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Sgt. Aaron Hayden of the Maine State Police updates parents outside the Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock, regarding the status of a search for a report of a man with a rifle near the school, on Monday. Hayden told the parents that no one was found and they could join their children following the school lockdown.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Additional Photos Below

Lockdown raises questions about school polling places

A handful of voters who went to Mill Stream Elementary School’s gymnasium to vote in the town election were not allowed to leave until Monday’s school lockdown was lifted.

Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said the incident didn’t appear to have substantially disrupted the election, but the lockdown has her considering making the town office the polling place in the future.

“That is a conversation we may be having,” she said. 

She said that, while students and teachers knew exactly what to do during the lockdown, election staff and voters were caught in a frightening situation and didn’t know the drill. 

“It was a bit traumatic on that front,” she said.

She said the main concern is the presence of untrained people could lead to added security risks for the students. The elections could be held easily in the town office if furniture were moved to accommodate the traffic, Flewelling said.

“I totally freaked out because of the recent thing in Connecticut,” mother Kerry Falvey, 45, said shortly after the lockdown, tightly holding the hand of her son, Jaden Falvey.

Like Falvey, many of the parents at the school Monday, said they immediately thought of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Conn., when they yeard Mill Stream was locked.

The lockdown, which was initiated about 8:30 a.m. when two first-graders told a teacher they saw a man with a rifle outside the school, was lifted a little more than an hour later after Maine State Police said there was no threat. After interviewing the students who sounded the alarm, police concluded that children had not seen a gun, Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. 

Many parents took their children home for the day, even though the threat was unfounded.

At the beginning of the lockdown, the school’s automated message delivery system told parents not to call or come to the school, but more than a hundred of them showed up anyway, clogging U.S. Route 2 for a few hours.

Security experts say that if there had been a real threat, the parents who responded would have added to the risk, making it more difficult for police to do their jobs.

Falvey said she didn’t think that her son fully understood there was a potential threat. Jaden said he was excited to be leaving school early. School administrators said many of the younger children didn’t differentiate between the incident and a standard drill, but most of the older children realized it was not a test.

Falvey first heard something was wrong when she received a phone call from her daughter, Crystal Rushton, at Halcyon House, where she is program manager.  Rushton, 26, saw yellow perimeter tape and police at the school and stopped to find out what was going on.

Falvey remained in phone contact with her daughter while she left work to join the growing crowd of parents.  She said she appreciated the way the school reacted to the crisis. 

“They did an excellent, excellent job,” she said.

About two hours after the initial report, both shoulders of U.S. Route 2 next to the school were still lined with parents’ cars. The spectacle caused traffic to slow to a crawl on the busy road for much of the morning.  

While many parents chose to take their children home for the day, school district Superintendent Brent Colbry said others just wanted a quick visit. 

“Many said, ‘I know there’s no threat to my child, but I want to see them, comfort them,’” he said. 

Of the school’s 411 students, 182 had been removed by their parents by noon, school administrators said. The school is part of School Administrative District 54, which has schools in Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

Some at the scene praised the reaction of the school staff, the behavior of the students, and the speedy response from law enforcement officers, some of whom arrived less than three minutes after the school’s principal contacted them.

‘They thought they saw a gun’

The drama began when two first-grade students told a teacher they saw a suspicious man in the large open area between the school and the Norridgewock Library, which is next door.

“They said he had a black hat and looked threatening,” Colbry said. “They thought they saw a gun.”

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors


Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Maine State Police troopers walk past a playground during a lockdown at the Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock, while searching for a reported man with a rifle, on Monday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Parent Kerry Falvey holds on to her son, Jaden, after police allowed parents to reunite with their children following a lockdown of the Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock on Monday. Police searched the school grounds after a report of a man nearby with a rifle.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Maine State Police approach parents waiting to enter the Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock following a lockdown on Monday. Police searched the school grounds for a man with a rifle but no suspect was located.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Brett Colby dicusses the lockdown, and search for a reported man with a rifle near the Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock, on Monday. Police did not find a suspect and students and parents were reunited later.

Staff photo by David Leaming

  


Further Discussion

Here at OnlineSentinel.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)