ST. JOHN, Ind. (CBS) — A student who mistakenly thought he heard someone loading a gun in a bathroom at Lake Central High School in St. John, Indiana, prompted a lockdown and massive police response Wednesday morning, but no weapon was found and no one was hurt.
St. John Police Chief Steve Flores said, just before 10 a.m., police received a call about an active shooter at the school, and officers from several nearby agencies responded to search the building.
However, a school resource officer who was already at the building quickly located two students involved in the call and questioned them and determined it was a false alarm.
“While they were in the bathroom, the one student heard a noise of what he though was somebody racking a gun, as he explained it,” Flores said. “This student just said that he heard that, and that’s what he reported to our Lake County 911 dispatch center, and they dispatched it as an active shooter, which was not the case.”
Parents anxiously await outside Lake Central HS in Saint John, IN after school placed on a lock down earlier this morning. All students and staff are safe, according to school officials. @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/rwGiPYUEhj
— Meredith Barack (@MeredithBarack) September 8, 2021
As a precaution, police thoroughly checked the entire school and never located a gun.
“Once the school was safe, obviously we still wanted to double check it to make sure that we didn’t miss anything, that nothing was found, or they ditched a gun somewhere. So obviously we had to go through room-by-room just to make sure,” Flores said.
During the search of the school, parents were told to gather at nearby Fagen-Miller funeral home, where Flores said authorities assured them everyone was safe. While police searched each floor of the high school, students and staff remained barricaded inside classrooms with the lights off. Many communicated via text with their anxious parents who were waiting in the parking lot next door.
“They’re safe, their teachers, they had them all in their hiding spots that they’re supposed to be in. They had desks in front of the doors,” said parent Heather Vanator.
Flores said students were allowed to go home around the normal dismissal time after a full search of the building was completed.
Despite knowing they were safe, there were still several tearful reunions once students were dismissed.
Many students said that they learned much of what was going on through Snapchat and other forms of social media.
“It was really scary at first and then I realized we were safe because I saw on social media that everyone was coming here so I felt safe. I was only scared for a little bit,” said junior Olivia Iguardia.
The chief said police determined three boys were in different stalls of the same bathroom Wednesday morning, when one of them thought he heard the sound of someone chambering a round in a gun. He asked another boy in the next stall if he heard the same sound, but that boy was wearing earbuds and didn’t hear anything.
The third boy in the restroom had already left and later told police he didn’t know what noise he could have made to make the other boy think he’d heard someone possibly loading a gun.
“He said he washed his hands, and used the towel dispenser, and then he walked out, and so I don’t know if maybe the kid heard something that he wasn’t sure what it was,” Flores said.
The chief said police do not expect to file any charges for false reporting, saying even though the boy who called 911 was mistaken about what he heard, he’d “rather be safe than sorry,” had have students report anything that might be suspicious.
Flores also praised police and school officials for the way they handled the situation, noting officers regularly work with the school district on responding to active shooter calls, holding drills at least once a year.
“So at the end of the day, it turned out fine. Everybody was safe,” Flores said.
Several police departments from Indiana and Illinois assisted in the response to the call, along with agents from the FBI and ATF, according to Flores.
Lake County Schools Corp. Superintendent Dr. Larry Veracco praised police for their prompt response.
“I would like to say that, after today’s response, I have a much deeper admiration for the ability of law enforcement and public safety officials to come to the aid of a school like ours when there was a perception of a potential problem,” he said. “So that gives us a lot of confidence in the ability of our local people, or SROs, to mobilize other folks to help if it had been a true serious safety threat.”
Veracco and Flores said police and school officials would conduct a thorough review of the incident to determine if there’s any way to improve on their response.
“We’re just thankful no one was hurt. We’re really happy with the way it turned out,” Veracco said.