The day after a lockdown at Lafayette High School, parents and students are still seeking answers about the “threatening phone call” that forced students to wait in classrooms for hours, but officials are remaining mum about the threat made to the school.
Around 8:55 a.m. Thursday, an anonymous, threatening phone call was made concerning the school, a school system statement said. Students were scheduled to take part in a planned lockdown drill that morning and things quickly shifted from practice to reality.
Students weren’t allowed to leave their classrooms for lunch and were supervised to the restroom. Extracurricular activities were canceled. At dismissal, bus riders were shepherded out in small groups to buses behind the school, while car riders and students who walk were picked up by guardians over the course of at least two hours.
Parents and students took to social media to voice their frustrations and called for better communication from officials.
The Lafayette Parish School System issued a statement Friday evening addressing parent concerns but offered little new insight into the situation. Law enforcement was also tight-lipped about the possible danger at the high school, citing the ongoing investigation.
“We understand the frustration of parents, students, and staff when we are unable to share the details of events in order to maintain the integrity of ongoing investigations. In the best interest of student and staff safety, it is our duty to follow the safety protocols in our crisis management plan,” the school system statement said.
Aside from extra resource officers on campus, class and extracurricular opportunities resumed as normal Friday. Jennifer Gardner, chief administrative officer for the school system, said that’s normal procedure after a threat. Gardner said she doesn’t anticipate extra security will be needed next week.
Leslie Voorhies Blackburn, whose son Alex is a sophomore at Lafayette High, was one of the parents concerned by the lack of explicit information. The mother said being able to text message with her 16-year-old son was comforting, but she would have felt more confident about the situation if law enforcement and the school system were less tight-lipped about the type of threat.
“Rumors get started when parents and students are on their cell phones and are texting back and forth and posting on social media. You need to have someone say explicitly, ‘This is what we’re dealing with.’ But it was always very vague,” Blackburn said. “I think parents want to know exactly what the threat is, not just that there has been a threat.”
The school system acknowledged the proliferation of rumors and said they “understand that this increased confusion and concern.” Some messages were sent to parents dispelling the rumors Thursday, including a message that clarified no weapons were found on campus and no one was arrested.
Lt. John Mowell with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office also dispelled a rumor about a potential arrest, confirming a man seen taken into custody near the school was detained, questioned and released. He was not connected to the school threat.
Mowell said Friday he can understand how the heavy law enforcement response from the sheriff’s office and the Lafayette Police Department created a sense of panic. Police units were parked at the school all day, blocking drivable entrances and exits to the school.
Lafayette High has a large student population and lots of open spaces, which required a larger police presence to secure the campus. The school is also located on a major roadway, which creates both security concerns and increases the public’s awareness that a lockdown is underway, he said.
“One of the differences here as opposed to other incidents that are similar, and one of the things that made it look so big, is the size of school. Responding to that type of incident takes a lot more resources,” Mowell said.
The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office administers the school system’s school resource officer program. Mowell said the Lafayette Police Department is leading the investigation into Thursday’s incident, but the sheriff’s office is assisting through the SRO program and its intelligence unit.
Cpl. Bridgette Dugas, Lafayette Police Department spokesperson, said Friday evening no new information is available while the investigation is ongoing.
Mowell said it’s possible information won’t be released soon. The investigation must take its course, he said. Part of withholding key information, like the type of threat, is to expedite tip gathering and vetting, Mowell said.
“As tips come in if we get tips about things that aren’t relevant that’s one of the ways we’re able to identify things. It’s one of the mechanisms we have that we’re able to preserve the integrity of the investigation,” he said.
“Rest assured, we will release whatever information we can based on the circumstances if it’s going to keep the kids and faculty safer,” Mowell said.
Few details have been made public about other recent school lockdowns, even after the situations have been resolved. In August, Dr. Raphael A. Baranco Elementary was placed on a soft lockdown after a threat. Raylin James was arrested Aug. 20 on a count of terrorizing for threatening the school.
After an initial court appearance, James was released to Louisiana Home Detention Services, a home monitoring program that’s an alternative to incarceration, Mowell confirmed.
Two juveniles were arrested on terrorizing counts Aug. 23 for threats made against David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy and Edgar Martin Middle School. The threats came to light after a concerned parent called 911 when her daughter was contacted by an unknown male and told not to attend school because there would be a shooting.