Juneau schools have received five phone calls threatening school shootings in the past two weeks. In each instance, nothing was found, but the threats had to be addressed. Here’s how schools and police responded to the incidents.
Paula Casperson says there isn’t time to be scared, “You have to go straight into decision-making mode.”
Casperson is the principal of Juneau-Douglas High School, which has 650 students. The school has received two threatening phone calls — one on April 27 and another May 5.
“I don’t know that it’s any more or any less disconcerting to have it happen more than once. We’re taking it seriously every time and it’s important that none of us get lazy in our response times as a result,” Casperson says.
In both situations, Casperson decided to go into “stay-put” mode, which means locking the exterior doors, making sure all the students are out of the hallways and common areas and into more secure areas.
“We continue with our teaching and learning environment. A stay-put allows us to continue instruction whereas other safety protocols, say an evacuation or a lockdown, would severely disrupt our educational day,” Casperson says.
Within minutes of the high school receiving its first call, Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School received a similar one andalso went into stay-put.
Seventeen-year old senior Cassidy Legowski was in fourth period English. She said the teacher locked up the room, “We put the green sign in the window and we had no idea what was going on. We found out later though text messages and everything else that somebody had called.”
The green sign indicates everyone inside is safe and no suspect is present. Legowski says she wasn’t scared, but her classmates seemed edgy.
Of the five threatening calls to district schools, Glacier Valley Elementary is the only one that has gone into lockdown.
“You kind of have to look at the circumstances for your school,” says Principal Lucy Potter. “We felt like if the phone call was in fact true, our students were in danger. At that point, we had kids on the playground, we had kids coming back from field trips. They were in many different places.”
Potter says during a lockdown, teaching stops, lights are turned off, doors are locked and kids are moved from windows and doors. She says the suspicious call came in to the main school number and an office staff person picked it up.
Potter says everyone experiences the threat differently.
“When you receive the phone call, the way that you handle the situation or see the situation is going to be very different from a teacher who’s in their classroom with a student, and they hear over the intercom, ‘This is a lockdown. I repeat, this is a lockdown,’” she says.
The superintendent says the first two suspicious calls that were made on the same day came up on caller ID as Skype.
Juneau Police spokesman Lt. David Campbell says there is an active investigation into the calls. He says a detective is determining if there’s any pattern.
“We view each individual threat as real and we respond appropriately because what we can’t have happen is allow us to get complacent and say, ‘Oh there hasn’t been a threat the last five times, there’s not going to be a threat this time,’” Campbell says.
A JPD press release says the calls are not identical, but all came from a computer or electronic sounding voice. Other schools across the state in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Kenai have also received threatening phone calls in the last two weeks. Campbell says Juneau Police are working with the Alaska State Troopers and the FBI in the investigation. He says he cannot comment on if there are any suspects.
Juneau-Douglas High School Principal Paula Casperson says it’s unfortunate that this is the climate schools need to work through, but it’s the reality. She says, for the past few years, the high school has gone into stay-put mode one or two times a year.