Sheriff: Lockdown 'a scary moment,' not an overreaction
In an age when school violence has become too common, a perceived threat is enough to trigger increased school security measures like on Wednesday for the Dolores Schools campus and Montezuma-Cortez High School.
"It was not an overreaction; it was a reaction," said Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell. "It was a scary moment, but it appears the threat was unintentional."
A lockdown occurred Wednesday about 10 a.m. for Dolores Schools after a girl in Durango posted a disturbing message about being upset about going to school. The juvenile attended Dolores Schools in the past, but now attends a Durango school, according to law enforcement.
The post from the 15-year-old girl, as described by the sheriff's office in a release, showed "pictures of a person with a gun to their head, someone drinking bleach through a straw, and two other pictures."
"She was having a yuck moment and expressed herself in the wrong way that had a ripple effect," Spruell said.
Dolores later downgraded its "lockdown" to a "lockout" which allows students to move about in the building, but nobody can go in or out, and the exterior doors are locked.
During a "lockdown" students stay in the classrooms, which are locked, exterior doors are locked, and nobody can enter or leave the building.
As a precaution, Montezuma-Cortez Highschool was put on "lockout" status during the emergency, according to Jamie Haukeness, director of school safety.
The lockouts for both Dolores and MCHS ended at 12:05 p.m. A law enforcement report initially included Dove Creek high school as part of the lockdown. However, Dolores County Schools superintendent Bruce Hankins said the school "was never put on lockdown, and we were advised by the Dolores County sheriff that it was not necessary."
There were no reported injuries or incidents as a result of the Facebook post.
According to the sheriff's report, the girl "meant to convey how she felt about going to school the next day."
The report states that further investigation revealed that the girl was a former student at Dolores Schools. As a safety precaution, Dolores School went on lockdown. Since the post was not school-specific, Montezuma-Cortez High School went on a lockout.
Based on a tip from MSCO, the Durango police department was able to track down the girl and interview her.
Sheriff Spruell said the images involving the gun and bleach drink were taken from the Internet and posted on the girl's Facebook page. Her name was not released because she is a juvenile.
Amy Smith, an M-CHS counselor, said students need to be aware of consequences of Facebook posts.
"I don't think they understand how quickly their images and messages transverse beyond their friend group," Smith said. "They can have an effect on other people's lives like we saw here with a lockout."
Smith urged students to be more cognizant of how their Facebook activity will be perceived in the wider world.
"For kids in general, impulse control is the last thing to develop," she said. "As adults, we need to help guide them, and model appropriate behavior."
Information on the incident came through the MSCO Facebook page, Nixle network releases and phone calls with the sheriff's office.
Dolores Schools went on lockdown first, after being notified that the girl had been a student there.
"The Facebook message by the juvenile was a general thing that could be perceived as a threat," Montezuma County Undersheriff Lynda Carter said. "Given the amount of school shootings across the country, we always err on the side of caution, so the lockdown was appropriate."
Officials are confident the threat is over, Carter said, and that students and parents can feel safe about going back to school.
"It's been resolved," she said, adding that "everyone performed well in the emergency of this type."
According to messages left for parents of Dolores students, at 11 a.m. the condition was changed to "lockout," meaning students could move about inside the building, but nobody was allowed to enter or leave.
The sheriff's office and Colorado State Patrol were dispatched to secure the schools.
Montezuma-Cortez Assistant Superintendent Lori Haukeness said Thursday morning that all of the district's schools were placed on lockout, and the district's Power School notification program alerted parents. The alert, in part, stated, "due to a direct threat made to one of our neighboring school districts by one of their students, the RE-1 schools are taking immediate precautions by transitioning into a "Lockout Status" until local law enforcement apprehends the individual."
"This is becoming embedded into our practice to protect students," Haukeness said. "This is our way of due diligence to keep students safe."
Haukeness said school administrators planned to hold a debriefing on Tuesday, April 15, to obtain feedback from each of the schools and their responses to the threat.
The incident also involved the Durango Police Department, which interviewed the girl.
Mancos schools were never placed on lockdown. Superintendent Brian Hanson said that after he heard about the threatening Facebook post, he contacted Mancos Marshal John Cox, who said there was no need to go on lockdown. The marshal said that he'd find out more information, Hanson said.
"We didn't know about it long enough to make the decision to go on lockdown before the other schools were off," Hanson said.
Karen Andrews, business manager for Dolores Schools, praised the community for staying calm and helpful in a stressful situation. When the lockdown occurred, Andrews and some third-graders were taking a tour of the District main offices, a half-mile away from the campus. Officials from Dolores State Bank also were present. The students were ushered into District offices for safety and were kept entertained by adults for several hours until the all-clear was given.
"This is where I want to brag about what a wonderful community we have," Andrews stated. "Immediate concern for the students was a top priority."
Bank staff ordered burgers and fries from The Depot, water was brought in, and the kids played word games and sang songs with adults and teachers, to a calming effect.
"Thank you, we love you for reaching out to our kids," Andrews said.
Due to the incident, Kindergarten registration for Dolores Schools was rescheduled to Tues. April 15, from 5:30-6:30 p.m.at the Dolores Elementary school.