Rumored gun threat locks down high school
Corning High School was locked down for about an hour on Friday when a student reported hearing a rumor that another student was bringing a gun to school, said Corning Police Chief Don Atkins.
"The rumor appeared to be third-hand, but all such incidents are taking very seriously," Atkins said.
Corning Union High School District Superintendent John Burch said the lockdown was the best thing to do for the safety of students and staff.
"We were not going to take any chances," Burch said.
Atkins said school staff received a report around 7:50 a.m. "that a 16-year-old male student was bringing a gun to the school."
Corning police school resource officer Dave Pryatel was informed and the school was locked down.
Burch explained "locked down" means a three-minute bell is sounded campuswide and all students and staff are to get into the closest classroom. Doors are locked, windows are locked and blinds closed. The lights are turned off and no students are allowed to use cellphones.
The name of the teen who was reportedly bringing the gun on campus was not released due to his age.
Pryatel and the school's on-campus Tehama County probation officer, along with two other Corning police officers, set up a perimeter around the school, not allowing anyone on or off campus.
"When the student did not show up, myself and officers began a search for him," Atkins said.
The boy was found at another student's residence and interviewed by police.
"He denied making any comments about bringing a gun to school," Atkins said. "Basically, he and his friend were playing hooky from school because it was Friday and 'the end of the world.'"
Atkins said the student had no idea why another student would say he was bringing a gun to school.
The police chief said the student is "a regular student who hadn't ever been in trouble before."
No weapon was located at the boy's residence or his friend's residence, where the 16-year-old had spent the night with his mother's permission, Atkins said.
"She knew her son was playing hooky," the chief added.
The boy was released to his mother, who was "not very happy with the situation," according to Atkins.
The lockdown was lifted just before 9 a.m.
Atkins said the department is continuing to investigate where the rumor originated.
"All is safe here," Burch said. "Staff carried off their responsibilities very well as did the students."
When the lockdown was lifted, Burch went to each classroom to check on teachers and students.
"The teachers commented on how well the students did. Initially they didn't know if the lockdown was a drill or the real thing, but we were able to communicate to each classroom via computer to let them know it was not a drill. Once teachers relayed to students the lockdown was real, they took it very seriously," Burch said.
He believes the tragic event at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has heightened awareness and anxiety over school violence and safety.
"The timing of our school lockdown is interesting. After Sandy Hook, the school's administration met and reviewed our emergency response and what we can do to improve. We asked each teacher to review emergency response and to go over it with their students," Burch said.
He said the fact Corning High School is a closed campus is an added benefit in such situations.
"Students are not flowing on and off campus; and if a student does leave campus, they stand out," Burch added.
He said communication is the biggest issue in such circumstances.
"Getting accurate communication is key. That is why having an on-campus police officer who is trained, armed and has instant communication with the police department is so important to this campus. That is an invaluable benefit to our school," Burch said.
The campus has a trained and armed probation officer on site each school morning.
"This adds a sense of security to our school. If anything happens they can respond," Burch said.