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ARIMO, Idaho — Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen wants the public to know that arming yourself and responding to a school threat incident will likely put you in harm's way and hinder law enforcement's response.
The longtime sheriff made those statements after several armed Marsh Valley High School parents showed up at the school on Wednesday morning when word got out that the school had been placed on lockdown because of a student who authorities believed was possibly carrying a pistol and had allegedly attacked and threatened his sister, the Idaho State Journal reports.
The mother of the brother and sister says the incident was massively blown out of proportion and stemmed from a verbal rather than physical confrontation between her children on Wednesday morning as the two siblings drove to Marsh Valley High School, where they are both students. The mother said her son never possessed a firearm during the incident.
Nielsen said some of the parents who responded to the school after hearing about the lockdown were armed with AR-15 rifles. One parent who was carrying an unholstered pistol got to the school at the same time as the first sheriff's deputies and state police and had a confrontation with a state trooper, the sheriff said.
Nielsen said encountering the armed parent at the school was very stressful for the trooper who stopped the man and told him to leave school grounds until law enforcement had the situation under control. Nielsen said the parent later profusely apologized to the trooper.
Nielsen, whose law enforcement career spans four decades, said he's never seen armed parents respond to a lockdown before and he wants to make it clear that doing so is a very bad idea.
"Do not self-deploy to assist us," Nielsen said. "We believed we had a kid who had just injured his sister and who had a gun. This wasn't a test. We believed there was the possibility of an active shooter."
The sheriff said that the armed parents who "self-deployed" to Marsh Valley High School because of Wednesday morning's lockdown could have been arrested for interfering with law enforcement officers but weren't.
He added that armed members of the public responding to school threat incidents put themselves in a very dangerous position because officers could think they're active shooters and open fire on them.
Besides the pistol-toting parent who had the confrontation with the trooper, the other armed parents who showed up at Marsh Valley High School were stopped at the perimeter set up by deputies and state police around the school. Nielsen said members of the school's janitorial staff also used school vehicles to block the entrances to the school's parking lot to make sure no armed parents could get into the building, where law enforcement officers were trying to sort out what was going on.
The incident that resulted in the school being locked down began on Wednesday morning with the brother and sister driving from the home of their mother in Montpelier to the Downey area home of their father.
The mother of the students contacted the Journal on Friday to provide her side of the story.
The mother said that during the trip from Montpelier to the Downey area, her two children got into a heated verbal disagreement.
She said her daughter was actually driving the vehicle and her son was the passenger; authorities said it was the other way around.
The mother said the dispute was verbal and her daughter called her via cell phone during the argument to intervene; authorities said the dispute was physical and the boy pistol-whipped the girl.
The mother said there was a pistol in the vehicle but her son did not have it in his possession.
When the brother and sister got to the Downey area home of their father, the siblings got into another vehicle and drove the rest of the way to Marsh Valley High School.
Once at the high school, the sister told some of her friends about her dispute with her brother that had occurred on the drive from their mother's home in Montpelier to the Downey area home of their father. Her friends felt threatened about the situation and contacted the Bannock County Sheriff's Office, which immediately put the school on lockdown and deployed all available officers to the school.
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About 20 law enforcement officers from the Sheriff's Office and state police responded to Marsh Valley High.
The Sheriff's Office was under the impression after talking to the sister's friends that the girl's brother was possibly armed and had made threatening comments.
The mother said responding officers took her son into custody in his automotive repair class at the school; authorities said they took him into custody in the school's parking lot in the car he and his sister had driven to school.
The mother and Nielsen both agree that he was unarmed at the time because the pistol was still in the vehicle at the boy's father's house near Downey.
Authorities said the brother and sister have been placed into the custody of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The mother said a Health and Welfare official asked her a few questions after the boy was taken into police custody, but after both children were questioned by the authorities they were released back to her and they're still currently living with her in Montpelier.
The mother said her son has not been charged with anything for the incident. The Sheriff's Office said that is true but the incident remains under investigation.
The mother and her children are not being identified because the two siblings are juveniles.
Nielsen said Marsh Valley High School has gone on lockdown before but during Wednesday morning's lockdown not only were the school's exterior doors locked but students were not allowed to leave their classrooms and the classrooms themselves were locked down.
Many of the students used their cell phones to call and/or text their parents about what was happening. Some of the parents became so alarmed at the situation that they grabbed their guns and went to the school to make sure their children were safe, Nielsen said.
The nearby Marsh Valley Middle School was also placed on lockdown because of the apparent threat.
Even with the armed parents responding to the high school, Nielsen said "the incident went very smooth."
But he added as a warning to the public, "When you want to do something and you're frustrated, you can't take the law into your own hands. It's best to let us take care of incidents like this because if you respond you will be more of a hindrance, you could be harmed, and you're going to make it tougher for us to protect the kids."