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Middle school lockdown

School receives threatening call, but no weapons found

School receives threatening call, but no weapons found

March 19, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A threat that a gun had been brought to school prompted a 21/2-hour lockdown Friday afternoon on the campus of E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

Carol Mowen, Washington County Public Schools public information officer, said the school received a threatening phone call about 12:35 p.m.

According to an e-mail message issued by the school, the caller indicated someone had brought a gun to the school, and about 20 officers from the Hagerstown Police Department, Maryland State Police and Washington County Sheriff's Department responded to the scene.

Squad cars were parked in line in front of the school, as well as off to the side, where the Hagerstown Police Department set up a mobile command center.

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Students were kept in their classrooms until dismissal to a staging area in the gymnasium. According to the e-mail, police officers and school staff searched all student lockers and a dog was used to sniff for explosives.

No weapons were found at the school, Mowen said Friday afternoon.

"I've got two kids at this school. Are they OK?" Richard Guessford, a father of two middle-school students, asked officers outside the school.

Frantic parents who heard about the lockdown began filling the school's parking lot about 2 p.m. Others parked along South Potomac Street in front of the school.

The exterior doors at South Hagerstown High School, Emma K. Doub Elementary School and Washington County Technical High School were locked as a precaution Friday afternoon, but Mowen said dismissals from the three schools, which share a campus with E. Russell Hicks, went smoothly.

The lockdown came just eight days after about 100 North Hagerstown High School students left classes early because of concerns about a gun at school. The student who was accused of starting that rumor was suspended.

Police allowed parents to pick up their children in the gymnasium at the side of the school, where students' book bags and binders were searched.

"They told us to get in the classroom and lock the doors and stay out of the hallways," eighth-grader Terrica Broadus said as she walked out of the gym with her mother.

Broadus fidgeted with a mechanical pencil and said she was nervous during the lockdown.

"They wouldn't tell us anything," she said.

Thirteen-year-old Tyler Wirfs, a seventh-grader, said he had heard "there was a kidnapper going around."

Mowen said students were dismissed from school without being able to return to their lockers. Any students who wish to retrieve personal items from the lockers may do so this morning, when Saturday School meets from 8 to 11 a.m.

According to Mowen, students rehearse lockdown situations about twice a year. Police conducted a lockdown in the morning as part of a routine drug search, Mowen said.

Teachers try to maintain a normal learning environment and continue teaching to avoid alarming students about what is happening, Mowen said.

Megan Duckworth, 11, described the lockdown as "pretty scary." The sixth-grader and a busload of classmates spent the day at Whitetail Mountain Resort near Mercersburg, Pa. They were told to wait out the lockdown in the gymnasium when they returned. Re-entering the school, Duckworth said, was "very scary," and students filed in quietly, as instructed by school officials who had accompanied them on the field trip and police.

"They had to be disembarked from their field trip bus so they could dismissed to their regular route bus," Mowen said. The students, she said, were held in a "secure location."

Dozens of cars filled the school's parking lot as parents and family friends arrived to pick up children. The last buses left about 3 p.m.

Tiffany Breeding drove a friend to the school. Like many parents, she expressed disbelief about the situation.

"My kid's only 3 - thank God," said Breeding, the mother of one child. "I am putting him in a private school. This is too much drama for me."

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