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Police: Student fabricated gun threat that prompts lockdown

(Marjorie Eddy)


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PLEASANT GROVE — A false report of a man with a gun inside Pleasant Grove High School resulted in a massive response of more than 200 officers who went classroom to classroom with their guns drawn.

In cellphone videos shot inside the school Thursday, students could be seen huddling under desks as officers in full tactical gear with weapons drawn swept each room inside the high school while searching for a gunman.

Emotional parents waited outside with each other near dozens of parked police vehicles from agencies throughout Utah and Salt Lake counties that were sprawled along the streets close to the school.

In scenes similar to a mass shooting Wednesday in San Bernardino, California, groups of students were instructed to raise their hands high above their heads as officers escorted them outside the main building and into an adjacent gym. After a 2 1/2 hour lockdown, the teens were finally allowed to leave the school about 4:15 p.m. Many met loved ones with tearful embraces amid a backdrop of armored vehicles and SWAT officers.

But on this day and at this school, unlike at so many others where mass shootings become national news, police say it was a 15-year-old student's fabricated report that triggered an urgent search for a gunman and a lockdown in each classroom. In the end, investigators said all students were safe and accounted for.

The lockdown began just before 2 p.m. when a student, whose identity was not released, told an administrator that he saw someone with a handgun inside the school, said Pleasant Grove Police Capt. Mike Roberts. The student described the person as a man in his 20s with blonde hair, wearing blue jeans and a black trench coat.

The teen later admitted that the story was false, Roberts said. While the boy was inside the school when he made the report, he was apparently not in class where he was supposed to have been.

"There's speculation that he wasn't in class and that was kind of his excuse to not be in class," the captain said. "But that's just speculation at this point."

The student was arrested and booked into a juvenile detention center for investigation of making a false police report and making a terroristic threat.

Student videos

In one of the videos shot by students, multiple officers can be seen entering a classroom with their rifles drawn while one shouts, "Police department, hands, hands!" Another one of the officers shouts, "Police department, raise your hands!"

Another person says, "Watch out, watch out, watch out!" It isn't clear from the video whether that person is also an officer.

In another video, multiple officers — at least one of them with his gun drawn — appear to be searching a classroom while students are sitting underneath their desks. One of the officers can be heard saying, "Stay in your room, OK?"

Another student-submitted clip shows at least four officers entering a classroom, again yelling for those in the room to put up their hands. As they left, the officers tell the students to keep the lights off and the classroom door locked.

"Hey guys, stay put 'til we come back for you, OK?" an officer said.

One student said it was a scary experience when SWAT officers entered his classroom.

"The police, they opened up the door and told us to put all our hands up and they were pointing their guns at us," said Michael Posey. "I was frightened. I've never had a gun pointed at me before."

Officers told students to leave their bags before they were escorted to a gym, where they were eventually told they were free to go, Posey said.

He initially thought the lockdown was in response to one student skipping class who was being uncooperative with school officials. At some point, that student was taken from class and questioned by a school resource officer, according to Posey.

A bomb squad was sent to the school as a precaution, but there was never an indication of a bomb or a bomb threat, according to Roberts.

About the same time, a caller reported to police that there were suspicious persons in the nearby Cherry Hills subdivision of Pleasant Grove. Roberts didn't know the status of that police call but said it's common for residents to be on high alert for suspicious activity during incidents like the one at the school.

False police reports like the one made Thursday put others in harm's way, the captain said.

"It puts the public in danger. … Parents are coming to pick up their students, people don't recognize them in their neighborhood and they call them in as suspicious, so it causes a lot of problem and a lot of grief I guess we didn't really need," he said. "But as far as tactically how it went down it went down very well and we're very happy with how it went down."

Roberts said the police response was proportionate to the nature of the perceived threat at the school. Per protocol, police vehicles used their lights and sirens on their way to the scene.

"It's a very large response and … it's a typical response for something like this. With law enforcement, we all work together in different communities (and) obviously on something as (massive) as this, our city couldn't handle it one on one and we had an absolutely great response from officers," Roberts said. "There was a long list of people that came and it systematically worked together to get the school locked down and searched very fast, so it worked very well."

Worried parents

Gregory Haycock said he was relieved when his daughter called him from inside the school to tell him she was safe. She was, however, distressed.

"She was really upset mostly because they weren't updating them about what was going on," he said. She also told him she was upset because some students didn't seem to be taking the situation as seriously as they should.

Haycock said it was "a big comfort" to him to see the large law enforcement response.

"I was really impressed with first responders and how quickly everything was taken care of," he said.

Richard Matheson, the father of twins at the school, said one of them sent him a text message saying police officers were searching classrooms.

"My first fear was what was going through my twins' minds," Matheson said. "You know, they've heard the news (about the mass shooting in San Bernardino) from yesterday, and then to look into the hallway and see (a) police force with assault rifles … I could tell from the tone of the texts when they were reporting (about) the police with those big guns, they were pretty nervous."

Matheson made his way to the school as soon he heard from his kids.

"I (decided) to get as close as I can so when they're out I can go get them myself," he said.

Julie Borst waited to hear from her son while she gathered with other worried parents near the school before learning that the report of a gunman was false.

"I'm standing here with a bunch of moms. We all have the same face. We're nervous," Borst said. "We're just trying to be calm. … I just wanted to be right next to where my boy is and as soon he's out, hug him and take him home."

Holly Smith, who waited near the school for word on her son and daughter, said she was "very, very happy" with the police response at the school.

"I just can't wait … to take my kids in my arms and hold them tight," she said. "Things change really quick. Life happens in a hurry and I think this moment stopped and froze all of us to (think), 'OK what's really important?'"

Student Tianna Thompson could see her aunt outside the school waiting to pick her up while she waited inside her classroom. She said also has a new lease on life.

"I feel like I should appreciate my life more and say I love you to my family more and just be grateful that not every day I'm in this situation," she said.

Contributing: Mark Giauque, Nicole Vowell, Andrew Adams

Photos

Ben Lockhart

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