Parents line up outside Sage Valley Jr. High School, waiting to pick up their children after a 14-year-old male was arrested for making threats against a student and staff member on Nov. 13 (Photo Credit: Adam Ritterbush)
A 14-year-old male, an 8th grader at Sage Valley Jr. High, acted alone and has been identified as the sole suspect behind the firearm-related threats that locked down the school earlier today.
Just after 8 a.m. this morning, the 14-year-old male conveyed the threats to a fellow student, who promptly notified Sage Valley faculty.
The threats were specifically directed toward another student and several faculty members whom the 14-year-old male was “not happy with,” according to Police Chief Jim Hloucal, who spoke during a press conference at City Hall this afternoon.
Hloucal said police were notified immediately and an unidentified school faculty member confronted the 14-year-old male and “secured him.”
The 14-year-old male had a concealed .40 Cal handgun on his person, along with 36 rounds of ammunition.
“Some of it was loose in his pocket and some of it was in magazines that were not in the guns at the time,” Hloucal said.
In addition, a 9mm handgun was secured from the student’s school locker.
Officers were on scene within minutes of receiving the call and, upon their arrival and in conjunction with school staff, the school was placed in full lockdown. Doing so expedited the investigation as it eliminated any possibility of potential suspects wandering about the school.
During a lockdown, “students who are not in classrooms are swept from the hallways into classrooms and they are instructed to remain in that classroom until released,” said Alex Ayers, district superintendent of schools.
“It’s very beneficial,” Hloucal said.
Formal charges will follow after investigators have a chance to meet with the County Attorney’s office, which should happen within the next few days.
The lockdown was concluded within 90 minutes, with the school district notifying parents via mass messaging that they could pick up their children if they wished.
The line of parents, beginning at the front doors to Sage Valley during the lockdown, at one point stretched to the point that parents were nearly standing in the street, according to a Campbell County Sheriff’s Deputy who was overseeing students leaving school.
“That’s a very difficult situation, the waiting time for parents,” added Ayers. “I know the line was long, we appreciate their cooperation and their patience to see and hug their kids.”
The unidentified student who reported the original threats to school faculty is hailed as a hero, whose actions aligned with the highly publicized “See Something, Say Something” police campaign and prevented what could have been an unmitigated disaster.
In some cases, similar incidents are usually accompanied by certain precursors, which, if acted upon quickly enough, are often the difference between lives lost and lives saved.
“There’s always something there that says this person has a plan or they are considering some action like this,” said Hloucal, adding that it’s frequently tips from the community, friends, and family of a suspect who bring the matter to light.
“As a community, the only way you are going to prevent these is with that cooperage,” Hloucal explained. “Because it doesn’t matter if it’s a parent. If they see that a student or a friend of their child is having issues and is making threats, somebody has to say something to somebody who has the ability to investigate it prior to it occurring. It’s the only way you can prevent it.”
“I applaud this student. That person’s a hero in our eyes and I’m thankful that they reported the situation,” added Ayers.
School will resume as normal tomorrow at Sage Valley, though Ayers expressed that the district understands how unsettling these types of incidents can be.
“We fully respect parents as to whether or not they send their child to school, to Sage Valley or elsewhere, tomorrow,” he said.
Hloucal added that, while there is not a continued threat, police will have a heightened presence at Sage Valley and at other schools across Gillette.
“If [parents] see our officers there, it’s precautionary and it’s to give them some level of comfort in letting their kids go to school,” he said.
“We want parents to be as comfortable as they can be with how we handled the situation,” said Ayers. “We want the facts to be as available as possible. This was an isolated threat and [it] has been effectively dealt with by law enforcement.”