Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Public safety

Sunlake High student claims to be armed, but no weapons found

LAND O'LAKES — A 15-year-old student at Sunlake High School bragged to a girl that he was carrying weapons, triggering a lockdown Friday morning and flooding the campus with dozens of sheriff's deputies.

The student, though, was not armed and told authorities his comment was "taken out of context," said Pasco sheriff's Capt. James Mallo.

The school remained on lockdown for several hours while deputies and police dogs swept the campus to make sure there was no danger. The lockdown was lifted shortly before 1 p.m., and the student was taken to the juvenile assessment center.

Nearby, Rushe Middle, Oakstead Elementary, Imagine charter school and Rasmussen College campuses were also put on lockdown during the morning.

The student, whose name authorities did not release, faces a misdemeanor charge of disrupting a school function, Sheriff's Lt. J.R. Law said.

Sunlake principal Steve Williams said he had not determined what type of disciplinary action the school would take. District policy sets the maximum suspension at 10 days and allows for possible expulsion.

"We do take a very dim light of this kind of action," Williams said.

The girl reported the student's comment to the school resource officer. The student, who wore a long black trench coat, was in class when authorities confronted him. He admitted making the statement, Mallo said.

Sunlake students, locked in their classrooms, immediately began tweeting about what was going on. "So a kid tried shootin up sunlake today…," one read. "Cops galore at Sunlake," read another. They also texted and called their parents, setting off another wave of alarm.

Despite the rumors, deputies found "no evidence there was ever a weapon here," said Williams, who praised deputies' rapid response.

He said parents were kept informed with phone calls home and through his Twitter account, which feeds into the school district's website.

Law said after the incident that rushing to the school in a true emergency "is one of the worst things a parent can do." It slows law enforcement's response time and forces the agency to waste resources on crowd control, he said, adding the best way to receive information is to leave good contact information with the school.

But parents who camped outside the school refused to leave. They said they had heard nothing from the school district or from deputies and were relying on their kids for details.

"They should have had someone out here to at least give us an update," said Scott Bell.

Samantha Wallace was on her way to work when her daughter, Kristen, texted her about the lockdown, saying she and her classmates were sitting by the door in case anyone tried to come in.

"I did 100 getting back to her," said Wallace, who also pulled her 11-year-old son out of Rushe.

When authorities gave the all clear, an army of parents marched to the school office to claim their kids.

Contact Lisa Buie at [email protected] or (813) 909-4604. Follow @Lisa_Buie.

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