- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

LEONARDTOWN, Md. — Police SWAT team members yesterday locked down four schools in St. Mary’s County in response to a report that a student brought a gun into one of the schools.

No gun or suspect was found despite an intensive dayloang search that had parents and students rattled by rumors of what was occurring. Some parents kept in contact with their children by cell phones and text messages.

“We’ve heard all kinds of things,” said Dee Mason, who stood across the street from Leonardtown High School, waiting for her 17-year-old daughter and her 11-year-old son, who was inside the middle school. “We’ve heard that a student was mad that he wasn’t going to graduate, a teacher was held hostage, a bomb threat — there’s been all sorts of stories.”

St. Mary’s Sheriff David D. Zylak said around 8:30 a.m., a student and his grandmother were in a Fastop convenience store across the street from the high school when they saw a young male place what they thought was a handgun in his backpack and walk toward the school.

Police ordered the lockdown immediately upon receiving the report.

“A lot of [students] park and walk to school from [the Fastop], because there’s not a lot of spaces at the school,” said Tonja Hammond while she waited for her son and daughter, a junior and sophomore respectively, at Leonardtown High. “Some of them leave during lunch break to go there, which I don’t really agree with letting them do.”

Though several surveillance cameras are inside the store, none provide a view of the outside. Sheriff Zylak said there was no useful footage available from the store, but tape from school surveillance cameras would be used to help identify the suspect.

He said authorities showed a school yearbook to the witness and his grandmother to help them identify the person they had seen with the gun, but they could not make an identification.

The 1,800-pupil high school was placed under a total lockdown keeping students confined to rooms they were in and only occasionally allowed bathroom breaks. A partial lockdown kept an additional 1,700 students at the nearby Leonardtown Middle School, the Dr. James A. Forrest Career Center and the Alternative Learning Center from leaving the grounds.

There were no reports of injuries, but the sheriff’s department did report a female student at one of the schools suffered a panic attack and was taken from the scene in an ambulance.

Police inside the high school searched every room and school locker with the aid of K-9 units, and hand-searched each student before releasing them room by room. The students were ordered to remain silent during the investigation, Sheriff Zylak said.

Hundreds of parents waited nervously for hours for their children to be released, and by 4 p.m. about a third of the school’s students were yet to be processed by authorities.

Angela Young, who waited for nearly four hours for her 16-year-old son to emerge, said she initially discounted the situation because bomb threats were commonplace at Leonardtown High.

“We have bomb threats all the time,” she said. “The bomb threats at this school are ridiculous.”

Two construction workers were arrested behind the school when police arrived on the scene and found them with an “illegal substance.”


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