Schools locked down after suspicious man sighted
A report of a man carrying a gun near Zephyr Cove Elementary School while students played at recess caused administrators to place the school, as well as nearby George Whittell High School and Kingsbury Middle School, on lockdown Thursday afternoon.
“School officials reported that an aide at the school saw what she believed to be a male adult, dressed in all-black clothing, standing on the hillside behind the school,” according to a statement from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. “The aide reportedly saw the subject carrying what she believed to be a rifle.”
No shots were fired, and no evidence of a gunman – other than the initial report – was found during the extensive police search that lasted about three hours, said Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said.
Whether there actually was a man with a gun in the area remains unclear.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Halsey.
There were no footprints in the snow in the area of the reported sighting, and K-9 units were unable to pick up a scent, Halsey said.
Approximately 50 law-enforcement officers from California and Nevada, as well as several FBI agents, began searching the elementary school, high school and surrounding wooded areas shortly after the report was received around 11:30 a.m.
Involved in the search were officers from the Douglas County SWAT team and three K-9 units, including one from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department.
“We take it extremely seriously,” Pierini said Thursday.
So do the parents of students.
At about 12:30 p.m., Zephyr Cove resident and parent John Nelson heard rumors of shots fired at the high school and immediately drove over.
“I was definitely concerned,” Nelson said. “I have a daughter in the elementary school and a son at the high school.”
Law-enforcement officers deemed the schools safe at about 1:30 p.m., and students were released at the normally scheduled times.
Rich Alexander, assistant superintendent for the Douglas County School District, said the scenes inside the schools during the lockdowns were “very calm” and “very orderly.”
“We have an emergency-preparedness plan,” Alexander said. “This kind of thing is something we practice.”
The school district will examine its response to the incident in the upcoming days, but Alexander praised school officials and police officers for their actions Thursday.
“The kids are safe and the employees are safe, so that is what’s important,” Alexander said.
All three schools will open as usual today, with sheriff’s deputies keeping a closer eye on the area.
“At the direction of Sheriff Ron Pierini, Douglas County sheriff’s deputies will be conducting extra patrol at area schools for the next several days,” said a statement from the sheriff’s office.
Pierini also encouraged members of the public to inform law-enforcement officers about instances in which they believe they’ve encountered suspicious persons.
“They need to call us,” Pierini said, “Without that help, we’re going to fail.”