Second gun scare at a Summit school in two weeks came at sensitive time in wake of Parkland massacre
March 2, 2018
Summit Middle School was evacuated Friday afternoon after a live bullet was found near a bus stop, prompting dozens of police, a K9 unit and a SWAT team to descend upon the campus.
There were no shots fired, weapons found or students injured. The school's roughly 800 students were taken on buses to Summit High School starting at around 12:30 p.m. while police continued to sweep the building and surrounding area.
Ultimately, the single .223 caliber bullet was all they found. But that was enough to set off the second scare at a Summit County school in two weeks. Last Thursday, Summit High School was briefly on high alert after what turned out to be an erroneous social media threat.
Friday's evacuation evoked the hair-trigger atmosphere at schools nationwide in the wake of the recent massacre in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people. Summit students were still planning demonstrations related to that shooting when Friday's scare happened.
“If we could prevent these things, they wouldn’t be happening
— that’s the bottom line ... All we can do is encourage people to say something if they hear something or see something.”Jaime FitzSimonsSummit County Sheriff
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The middle school evacuation also occurred barely 12 hours after a panel discussion on school safety hosted by the Summit County Sheriff's Office Thursday night. The event drew at least 100 people to Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge, where six law enforcement and school officials took questions about school threats. Little did they know they would be handling one the next morning.
"We told people last night that we take every threat seriously and investigate each one fully, and here we are doing it," Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said Friday afternoon. "We're going to respond to every threat. We don't have a choice when you're talking about the safety of hundreds of kids."
Law enforcement interviewed the students and had no reason to doubt their story, FitzSimons said. He speculated that it could have fallen out of a car or been dropped a long time ago only to be revealed by recent snowmelt.
Friday wasn't the first time the middle school has had a gun violence scare. In March 2017, police received a report from anonymous tip line Safe2Tell warning of a student who was making credible threats against several people. He was not charged with a crime but is not currently attending school, FitzSimons said.
During that incident, the school district drew criticism from some parents who felt out of the loop, saying they received only limited information long after the incident occurred. This time, however, the district and sheriff's office both provided detailed updates throughout the day on social media. (A school district spokeswoman did not immediately return a voicemail Friday afternoon).
"When I first got the text this morning I was pretty upset, and I stayed in that furious place for a good hour," said middle school parent Naomi McMahon. "But this time they really, really did a good job communicating. In the past, especially the last time something big like this happened … I got my email two days later telling us what was going on. This time, they were quick to be on social media, and that hasn't happened before."
McMahon is part of a group of parents and students planning demonstrations against gun violence in the wake of Parkland, which prompted high-profile activism from student survivors. Currently, a sit-in and 17-minute moment of silence is planned at Summit High on March 14.
Students at the middle school are also planning a demonstration, but the details aren't ironed out yet, McMahon said. This latest incident could galvanize more people to the cause.
"I have a feeling more students and more parents will show up, and I think that's a good thing," McMahon said.
There was no indication that the bullet found Friday was connected to any threat. But in an age where mass shootings can seemingly occur anytime and anywhere, law enforcement isn't taking any chances.
"If we could prevent these things, they wouldn't be happening — that's the bottom line," FitzSimons said at Thursday night's panel. "All we can do is encourage people to say something if they hear something or see something."
As familiar policy debates still whirled around in Washington, panelists steered clear of politics. And if past experience with mass shootings is any guide, Parkland may not lead to any significant changes to federal gun laws.
Absent talk of arming teachers, hardening schools or restricting access to guns, discussion largely turned on the role of families and community members in preventing violence, as well as the safety protocols at Summit County schools.
"Whether or not any one of us or any one individual has an answer as to how to prevent (shootings), it does take a village," said Heidi McCollum, assistant district attorney for Colorado's 5th Judicial District. "Without forums such as this, it won't happen. We won't find a solution."
Turning schools into fortresses isn't a likely solution either, school district emergency coordinator Travis Avery said. For one thing, the money isn't there. And there are also tradeoffs to having prison-like security in a place of learning.
"A larger question is, what do you want the climate of your schools to look like?" Avery asked the audience. "To be frank, we're dealing with youth, and they're going to personalize everything you do to them. So the more security you have, the less they want to be there."
The school district made the evacuation decision after receiving law enforcement's initial threat assessment, FitzSimons said. The process took roughly three hours, which was longer than the school district expected. It also created congestion at Summit High, where parents were told to pick up their children.
But McMahon said the scene at the high school was upbeat and efficient, with parents being quickly reunited with their children. She said the inconvenience was a small price to pay for the safety of her daughter, an 8th grader at SMS, who was hungry but had a smile on her face when McMahon picked her up.
"I don't want them guessing with my child's safety," McMahon said. "If that means she doesn't get to eat for three hours, that's OK. Because the last thing I want them to do is guess about it."
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