Police said a 17-year-old student brought a handgun to Thunder Mountain High School on Thursday in an attempt to sell it, an incident that prompted the school to go into lockdown mode and the boy to be arrested for possessing a firearm on school grounds.
“Apparently, the suspect brought the pistol to school to try and sell it,” Juneau Police Department spokesman Lt. David Campbell told the Empire. “The gun was in the backpack and he show(ed) some kids, and told others about it.”
A school resource officer found out about the handgun on campus from a 17-year-old female student around 10:05 a.m. Thursday morning. The 17-year-old boy fled on foot, but was located within 30 minutes by responding police officers. He was found off school grounds near the Dimond Park Field House on Riverside Drive in possession of a .22 caliber pistol, police said.
As police searched for the suspect, students hunkered down in their classrooms with the lights off and doors locked, unaware of exactly what was going on.
Freshman Madeline Kleinschmidt said she and her classmates and health class teacher huddled in the corner of the classroom, crouched down low and tried to stay quiet after hearing a message from the principal over the intercom.
“All we knew was that it wasn’t a drill, and something bad was going on,” she told the Empire, where her father, Vitto Kleinschmidt, works as the circulation director.
The younger Kleinschmidt said her teacher did a good job of keeping everyone calm, while students texted their parents about what was going on.
“I think everybody was a little nervous at first, and scared,” the 15-year-old said, adding they have done drills before so they knew what to do. “After a while, people started whispering, and our teacher told us to stay calm and follow directions, and we’d be OK.”
Some parents, meanwhile, rushed to the school to find out if their children were alright. TMHS Principal Dan Larson was outside the school’s entrance, directing people to stay in their cars as spoke to police on his cell phone.
When Larson received word that the boy and the gun were in police custody, he announced over the loudspeaker that the lockdown was over. It had lasted about 30 minutes, he told the Empire.
Parent Victoria Scharen heard the report of the lockdown over the police scanner and left her work at a tax firm to check on her daughter, a sophomore at TMHS. She expressed frustration that the school didn’t put out an alert or notification immediately about the incident — she heard the news through a text from her daughter.
“Nice to tell us via text from our kids,” Scharen said after hearing the intercom message outside the school announcing the lockdown was over, as she entered the building to see her daughter.
The Juneau School District alerted all parents in the school district and staff by a mass email sent out at 11:34 a.m., almost an hour after the incident was resolved. JSD Chief of Staff Kristin Bartlett said the reason for the delay was to ensure the information they were disseminating was accurate.
“In a situation like this, communication from staff and students within a school to the outside happens quickly,” Bartlett said in an email. “While it is the goal of the school district to advise parents as soon as possible when something is happening at a school, it is critical that the school district take the time to confirm the facts and make sure that what is released is accurate. In this case, we worked out the message with Juneau Police Department officers on the scene and released it as soon as it was possible.
An automated phone message was sent to parents of TMHS and Riverbend Elementary School later Thursday afternoon.
Riverbend Elementary School also went into lockdown mode as a precaution to ensure students didn’t go outside. Juneau-Douglas High School was also placed on “stayput” mode as a precaution.
“We couldn’t leave (the) classroom but we still had class,” Sam Bibb, a junior at JDHS, told the Empire.
Bibb said he received a text from one of his friends at TMHS about the incident.
Nate Barzee, who runs the Dimond Park Fieldhouse where the boy was apprehended, said he was informed of what was happening by parents participating in Turf for Tots. Barzee said he locked the fieldhouse’s front entrance, the only way in, and monitored what was happening outside through the fieldhouse’s surveillance cameras. He said JPD secured the area “pretty fast.”
“Before you knew it, the police had him in cuffs,” he said.
Barzee said there were about 30 kids inside the fieldhouse at the time.
Rumors swirled around the student body about what actually took place, especially regarding the identity of the student in question and whether the gun was fired.
Despite rumors that a gun was fired outside behind the school, JPD said there is no report shots being fired.
“If so, that would be another charge,” Campbell told the Empire, adding that there were no reports of anyone being threatened with the gun.
“Threatening someone with a firearm would be a felony assault,” Campbell said. “He was arrested only on misdemeanor misconduct weapons.”
The 17-year-old was charged with misconduct involving weapons in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor offense for possessing a weapon on school grounds. The maximum possible punishment the juvenile could face in court if convicted is a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. The case is being handled by the Department of Juvenile Justice, which keeps its proceedings confidential and are not open to the public or press.
Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp told the Empire that certain crimes — such as class “A” felonies or unclassified felonies — are automatically waived into adult court. This case does not appear to be at that level, she said, citing the fact that he is only facing a misdemeanor.
The boy’s name was not released by authorities because he a minor. Although multiple students gave the Empire the name of the suspect, both JPD and the District Attorney’s office said they could neither confirm nor deny his identity. The Empire will not release the boy’s name until it is confirmed by authorities.
Police said the boy is being held at the Johnson Youth Center.
The school district said this may be the first time that a Juneau school has been locked down because of a gun. JSD has implemented lockdowns in schools before, but usually over knives, Bartlett said.
According to the 2010-11 JSD Discipline report released in September 2011, there were 14 weapons-related disciplinary incidences district-wide during that school year: 13 knife or “knife tool” incidents and one airgun incident. Bartlett said that was a 44 percent decrease from the previous school year (2009-2010) when 25 knives or “knife-like objects” were found on school campuses.
Of the knife incidents in 2010-2011, four were considered “Category One,” the most serious classification of offense at the high school level, and those incidents required police involvement.
More recent figures were not immediately available.
This is the second gun-related incident on school grounds in Juneau in the past week. Police said a 13-year-old boy brought a BB gun to Floyd Dryden Middle School on Saturday for Saturday School, a form of detention. Police found out about that incident on Monday and seized the BB gun at the parents’ request.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.