Parkway School District officials say the system worked as it was supposed to on Monday evening when a gun scare in the vicinity of Parkway South High left 100 students and staff locked inside until the situation was resolved.
Parkway district spokeswoman Cathy Kelly said parents were not notified during the two-hour period that events were unfolding because the situation was changing so quickly, officials didn't want to send misinformation.
The lockout at four Parkway schools began on Monday afternoon after a Webster Groves 19-year-old bought a shotgun, texted his girlfriend that he was going to kill himself, then proceeded to the area near Parkway South High School.
No one was injured during the incident. The loaded gun and shotgun shells were recovered nearby after the teen surrendered.
The situation compelled police to alert the Parkway School District's head of security around 5 p.m. Monday, according to school officials. That prompted the district to then go into "lockout" mode at Parkway South High, Hanna Woods Elementary, Southwest Middle and Wren Hollow Elementary in Manchester.
Parkway School District spokeswoman Cathy Kelly says "lockout" means the doors are locked and no one is allowed to enter the school. She said it happens occasionally during the school day if there is a crime nearby, like a robbery.
"The kids never know anything happened," Kelly stated.
Elementary school doors are typically locked all day as soon as class starts, middle and high school front doors are not completely locked, Kelly explained.
Kelly said the point of "lockout" is keeping the kids inside and any "bad guys" out.
However, Monday was a different situation because the incident happened in the evening when the middle school and two elementary schools were mostly empty, except for a few staff members and custodians.
"It was just a challengeing time of the day. If this happened at 9 in the morning, most people would have been here. It was 5," Kelly tells Patch. "Generally speaking, it worked."
Some parents were in the process of picking up their elementary school children from after-school care at that time and they were allowed to do so. Some were escorted to their cars by police.
Approximately 100 people were still at Parkway South High for extracurricular activities when the "lockout" went into effect. They were kept in the building until the suspect was safely taken into custody just after 7 p.m. The school's principal was also at the school during the incident, Kelly stated.
Other school administrators returned to the buildings if they had left in an effort to monitor the situation.
Hanna Woods Elementary School was used as a staging area for police. Parkway's Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Cheslea Watson was at that staging area communicating with police. Kelly added that Parkway's Deputy Superintendent Desi Kirchhofer was at the district's administration building as the situation began to unfold and moved around to various schools and the police staging area at Hanna Woods as it developed. Meanwhile, Superintendent Keith Marty remained at the district office with other personnel.
Despite students being held at the high school, the district did not alert parents to the situation until after it was resolved.
"People may criticize that we didn't send something immediately, because it kept changing and it's one of those things where we felt like the second we sent something out, we'd find out it was wrong," Kelly explained. "We tried to wait until we knew what was going on."
(Read the email alert sent to parents Monday night regarding the lockout.)
Cathy said normal protocol for a "lockout" event is that school officials would send information home with students as they left school. Parents would not receive alerts during the school day.
"We send something after the fact, at the end of they day," Kelly said. "Because they may see it on the news."
Since Monday's situation happened after school, district officials sent the alert around 7:30 p.m., once it was resolved.
"The kids were safe, there was no danger. The kids were safe during the whole thing," Kelly said. "The police do this as a precaution. I don't think police believed he had any affiliation with the school."
She said she's not sure if the high school students were communicating with their parents, but believes they probably were saying most of them have cell phones.
The incident occurred three days after the deadly massacre in Newtown, CT, in which a man invaded an elementary school, then shot and killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders, before killing himself.
The Connecticut incident prompted Superintended Keith Marty to send out a letter to parents addressing the massacre and how Parkway is reviewing its security measures. Parkway officials are meeting with St. Louis County Police Thursday to discuss the matter further. Marty's letter is also posted on the district's website. Click here to read it.
Kelly tells Patch police are also on the grounds of the elementary schools before and after class all week to ease the fears of staff and parents.
- Shotgun Was Loaded When Seized by Police Near Parkway Schools
- Parkway School Officials Alert Parents About 'Lockout' Incident in Email
- St. Louis County Police Chief Wants to Arm School Officials With Guns
- St. Louis County Police Meeting With School Officials About Security