After pepper spray and barricades, some Kent students endure a second day of lockdown

Image of Kent Roosevelt High School
Kent Roosevelt High School pictured in a file photo. Roger Hoover/The Portager

Updated at 7:15 p.m. Sept. 12 with information about a lockdown at Stanton Middle School on Monday.

Theodore Roosevelt High School and Stanton Middle School were again placed on lockdown Monday morning and a student was detained, the second consecutive day of disruptions caused by threats of violence against the Kent City School District.

Kent police received a tip that a 15-year-old high school student had posted a “vague threat on social media” Sunday night, according to a news release from the Kent Police Department. When an officer went to speak with the student, “he was not where he was supposed to be,” prompting a lockdown around 10 a.m.

The student was found in the library and detained. He was “not engaging in threatening behavior” in the library, police said.

Shortly afterward, the school was “operating normally,” the statement said. 

The Monday morning incident follows an emergency lockdown Sept. 9 that affected multiple Kent schools after an unidentified man called Walls Elementary and threatened to show up with an AK-47.

In an email, Kent police declined to share exact details of the department’s safety response, saying that doing so could compromise people’s safety. The Portager has requested all 911 tapes relating to both incidents.

Superintendent George Joseph said Monday’s incident was “a possible threat for Roosevelt only.”

“The police department received a tip. They did their part by alerting our administration,” he said. “We immediately thought it was necessary to go into lockdown. It was the police department that actually got the tip, so we followed the police department’s lead today.”

The lockdown lasted less than 20 minutes, Joseph said, “until we were able to do a quick investigation and lift the lockdown so classes could resume.”

Anxious to keep students safe during Monday’s incident at Kent’s Theodore Roosevelt High School, police placed nearby Stanton Middle School in a brief lockdown as well.

The lockdown lasted from 10:24 until 10:32, a mere eight minutes.

Joseph said he was at Roosevelt with officers who were responding to the situation there.

“They were talking about finding a particular student,” he said. “Because we weren’t sure where the student was right away, one of the officers went over to Stanton Middle School. In that process, Stanton Middle School was placed in lockdown for eight minutes.”

Joseph said many students travel between the two schools, so there was a possibility the student could be in either school.

High school administrators formed what amounted to a search party, and located the student, in the high school library, Joseph said. The boy was not one of those authorized to travel between the schools, he added.

Joseph said building principals sent a lengthy explanation of Monday’s incident to parents of students who attend Roosevelt and Stanton. All district parents received a lengthy explanation regarding Friday’s incident at Walls Elementary School over the weekend, he said.

The superintendent said he believes the two incidents are unrelated as the Roosevelt student has already been identified and dealt with, while police are still investigating Friday’s phone threat at Walls.

Immediately after classes resumed on Monday, Joseph sent a message to all staff and parents: “This is Superintendent George Joseph with an update from today’s lockdown. We initiated a brief lockdown at 10:14 to 10:32 a.m. at Roosevelt High School. The Kent PD responded to a safety tip and alerted the high school administration. After a quick investigation, the lockdown was canceled and classes resumed.”

Joseph understands parents, staff and students want information as situations are unfolding, but he said providing those messages is not possible.

“We can’t communicate until after that lockdown is over because we are actually dealing with the safety concerns. It would be really difficult to drop what we’re doing to send a message before we’re actually done with the actual lockdown,” he said. “We’re dealing with that emergency right then and there. Information is important to share, but when we’re dealing with the situation, it’s hard to stop dealing with it to send that message.”

Joseph said he was at Walls Elementary as students entered this morning and said there was additional police presence. That heightened presence will continue at all Kent schools all week, and additional counselors are also on hand “as needed” at all Kent schools, he said.

Regarding Friday’s incident, which targeted Walls Elementary School, Joseph said the school received a threatening phone call shortly after 2:10 p.m. A man whom police have not yet been able to identify threatened to bring an AK-47 to Walls, prompting “precautionary safety measures” led by the Kent Police Department with support from the Kent State police.

“We had the police department come out, and we went through and made sure all students were accounted for and all students were safe,” Joseph said Monday morning.

Police ordered Roosevelt High School and Stanton Middle School to go into lockdown as well. They advised Kent’s Davey, Holden and Longcoy schools to go into “soft” lockdown, during which students were to remain in the building while lessons continued, he said.

The 35-40 minute lockdown was lifted just prior to Walls’ usual 3:15 dismissal time, he said. Some schools’ dismissal procedures were impacted since the lockdown went beyond some schools’ usual dismissal times, and buses need time to make the rounds of all the buildings.

Based on comments on social media and interviews with several parents in the school district, the last two school days have been harrowing for children and families. With limited information trickling out, parents braced for the worst while their children huddled in classrooms.

Still, parents told The Portager they understood the school district was doing its best to keep the community informed.

Kent parent Caralynn Goold learned about the incident from texts that were making the rounds at her place of work. With a daughter in fourth grade and a son in kindergarten at Walls, she initially wasn’t unduly concerned, especially as it seemed Walls wasn’t involved.

When it was time for her to head to the school for carpool duty, she said she drove to Walls like usual.

“Then I saw all the cop cars and I said, ‘I don’t think that my kids were not on lockdown.’ It was a mess in the parking lot. George Joseph, the superintendent, was kind of going to as many cars as he could, explaining to parents all the kids were safe, all the kids were accounted for, but, ‘We really don’t have enough information at this time,’” Goold said.

At first Goold said she felt angry because her husband, who was out of town, had also received an “all call” stating that a lockdown he hadn’t even known about was over. She said she called him to reassure him, then did her best to help her children process their experience as they headed home.

Goold’s son’s kindergarten class was outside for recess when the alert was sounded. Per protocol, the students ran with their teacher to a nearby location, and remained there until two police officers came to walk them back to Walls.

He recalls having to walk quietly and slowly so “no one bad would see us or hear us.”

Goold’s daughter remembers hearing the announcement that the lockdown was not a drill.

“We were sitting down in class and we were getting ready to take a test. We had sat down, we were talking and the announcement: ‘lockdown this is not a drill,’” she said. “We ran behind the teacher’s desk and everyone was crying. I was crying a lot.”

Somewhat comforted by candy her teacher distributed, the teacher then told her students there was no shooter. The all-clear sounded, students headed outside for their rides home.

“I’m still kind of scared about what happened, but I’m thankful that nothing bad happened,” Goold’s daughter said. 

Reviewing Friday’s events with friends she saw at Art in the Park helped, as did discussing the incident with other friends she saw over the weekend.

Goold said she hopes police will be more visible at the school and that more police will introduce themselves so the children feel comfortable with them.

Though she wishes she and her husband had been given more timely and complete information, she admitted she still doesn’t know what it would have been or how it would have been done.

“I understand their priority was kids’ safety,” she said. “I’m not sure what I would have needed more of.”

Jessica Baker has a daughter in third grade at Walls and a son in seventh grade at Stanton.

“The first communication I got from the school was an all call at about 3:15,” Baker said. “It was a message from the principal that said they were ending the lockdown and all the kids were safe and accounted for.”

A teacher at a nearby school district, Baker said she was worried, but also relieved to know her children were safe after having been in lockdown.

“I understand that their priority was keeping the kids safe and making sure the situation was under control. While I would have liked to have had more information, I think they did what they should have done,” she said.

Baker said her daughter came home “a little scared,” but is not nervous about returning to school. Like other Stanton children, her son came home talking about having barricaded the door and having believed the lockdown was a drill until the dismissal bell rang.

Baker said she is positive counselors and police will provide ongoing support.

“In the past any time there’s been any sort of incident that I can think of, the school has always been supportive and always looking to do what’s best for the kids, so I think that pattern will continue,” she said.

Joshua Case, whose child is a fourth-grade student at Walls Elementary, said he received a voicemail assuring him all students were safe after having been in lockdown, and that buses would be delayed.

While relieved to hear that his daughter was safe, he said he understands the frustration students and parents felt upon learning there had been a lockdown and their children weren’t home at the expected time. On the other hand, he also understands that school officials may have been too busy ensuring students’ safety to provide parents with minute-to-minute updates.

“I wasn’t one of those folks whose kid texted them saying that we have a lockdown, and was worried for an hour,” he said.

Case’s daughter arrived home about 40 minutes later than usual, still “quite shaken up,” he said.

“She was just very scared. She told us that the teacher barricaded the door and had pepper spray ready and there were children who had heavy things ready to throw in case a gunman came through,” he said.

While that is standard protocol in even potentially active shooter situations, Case said no child should have to experience such a thing. His daughter is still shaken up and is nervous about returning to school.

“We feel possibly that this might stick with her a little bit,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that she might carry some of this fear in her body as she goes back to school.”

Lacking additional information from Kent schools, Case said he hopes counselors and additional police will be on hand when students return, and throughout the week. Hopefully, he said, the district will provide more information Monday and as the week progresses.

“I don’t necessarily blame the school, that their priority was keeping the kids safe and getting them on their buses,” he said.

Molly Murphy, a seventh-grade student at Stanton Middle School, said she and some of her friends thought it was a drill at first.

“We were all reading and then Mr. Horton [Anthony Horton, principal of Stanton Middle School] got on the announcements and he was like, ‘Hey, guys, we want you to go on lockdown,’ and everyone’s eyes were just like, oh, my gosh,” Molly said. “We looked at the teacher and we were all like, ‘Is this real?’ and she didn’t know. So we were all sitting on the table and sitting on the ground, and hiding.

“Then the bell rang for the end of the day, and we did not leave. We just sat there and we waited,” she said.

Soon Horton returned for a second announcement, advising students and staff to remain where they were.

“So we waited there for about 45 minutes. A few kids started crying. They were really nervous,” she said. “A few thought it was still a drill, but I knew it wasn’t a drill anymore when the bell rang and they didn’t let us go.”

Though some of her friends were nervous and crying, Molly said she felt safe being with them and her teacher. No one knew what was going on, “not even the teachers,” she said.

Molly’s father, Brock Murphy, said he received an email from the school district after the incident was over. As for more timely communication, Murphy said only that he hopes school and district protocol was followed. Molly is doing fine, he said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.