“This is probably the best way it could have happened.”
By Brandi Makuski
Three buildings in the Stevens Point School District were locked down for a little over an hour on Friday following activation of an intruder alarm.
The alarm was triggered by a student at Ben Franklin Jr. High at 12:19 PM, according to Stevens Point police. By 12:22 PM, about 40 law enforcement officers responded with no fewer than two dozen emergency vehicles to handle what they believed could have been an active shooter situation.
By the time law enforcement arrived, some students were already being evacuated, according to Assistant Police Chief Tom Zenner.
About 15 minutes after the alarm at Ben Franklin, another lock-down alarm was accidentally activated by an employee at Bliss Educational Services Center.
“When we got the second alarm, I went, ‘What the heck is going on here?'” Zenner said. “We were definitely worried at that point.”
As a precaution, nearby McKinley Elementary School was also placed on lock-down, but students there were told to shelter in place.
Students were gathered in a nearby parking lot at the Church St. Auto Zone, joined by a few teachers and educational assistants. Several students were visibly upset and crying, while others hugged or called family members from their cell phones.
Students were also sent to Plover Fire Station No. 2, just across Bliss Ave. in Whiting, the district’s neighboring bus garage or to Ruth Gilfry/Health and Human Services building three blocks away, as parents drove between locations anxiously searching for their children.
Law enforcement swept the building twice, Zenner said, and found no signs to confirm rumors of shots being fired on school grounds.
“This was an all-hands-on-deck call,” Zenner said. “When we get an alarm like this we prepare for the worst. I was very impressed; we were on the scene within three minutes.”
When asked about some students’ claims of hearing gunshots in the building, Zenner said, “We don’t know. I’ve heard a lot of statements went out on social media, and we have to deal with that. There were no shots fired or anything at the scene consistent with that.”
Parents were formally notified by the school district in an email sent at about 2:20 PM, according to Sarah O’Donnell, communications director for the district.
In an interview at the school following the lock-down, Assistant Principal Mark Ehr confirmed it was a student who activated the alarm but couldn’t say why.
“It is important to note that at no time today was anyone in danger,” an email from the district reads in part. “Our district staff and police have identified the exact cause of the alarm and confirmed it was fraudulently activated.”
“This is probably the best way it could have happened,” said Sheriff Mike Lukas after the scene was clear. “Not that you’d ever want to get this kind of call, but it turned out [that] there was no shooter and nobody got hurt.”
Along with Stevens Point police and Portage Co. Sheriff’s deputies, Plover police, Wisconsin State Patrol, Wisconsin DNR, Stevens Point Fire and EMS all responded.