Shortly after the first bell rang Monday morning at Payson High School, teachers at the high school and Rim Country Middle School were notified that an emergency was in progress and they had to "lockdown" their classrooms.
An administrator had spotted a 19-year-old high school student handling a weapon inside his vehicle in the parking lot.
PHS Dean of Students Dave Bradley spotted Daniel Gillespie handling a 12-gauge shotgun, and PHS Assistant Principal Barry Smith called the police. By 8:40 a.m., 10 minutes after the lockdown was ordered, Gillespie was arrested. At press time, school officials were uncertain who authorized the lockdown.
Gillespie was charged with misconduct involving a weapon and booked into the Gila County jail on Main Street.
Lt. Don Engler said the student told the arresting officer that he had been hunting cottontail rabbits last weekend and forgot to take the weapon out of his vehicle.
Engler, who also is a Payson School Board member, said misconduct charges were filed against the student because he had brought a weapon on school grounds. Gillespie has no prior record of misconduct, Engler said, "but there's evidence that he knew the weapon was in the vehicle.
"This is not a first," he said. "We have done cases this school year for similar type situations.
We've always taken a very serious approach to weapons on campus and often discipline follows in the school as well."
PHS Principal Phil Gille said that students who bring weapons on campus are automatically suspended for at least 10 days. The severity of the student's punishment is up to the Payson School Board, and can include long-term suspension or expulsion.
"Any time we get a weapon on campus, we recommend long-term suspension or expulsion," Gille said. "It becomes a board issue."
Gillespie has been suspended for at least 10 days pending disciplinary action by the school board, he said.
RCMS Principal Frank Larby said the lockdown at his school, which required teachers to lock themselves and their students in their classrooms, went well.
"The teachers reacted immediately," he said. "From our point of view, it worked like clockwork. We couldn't have asked for a better response."
Mike Wheelis, director of personnel and student services for the district, said both schools were placed on lockdown because they're right next to one another.
"The student brought a weapon onto campus in a vehicle," Wheelis said. "It never left the vehicle. The administrator saw it and called the police. It never really was a threat."
Wheelis said as soon as school officials were sure there was no threat, they unlocked the schools' doors. The decision to order a lockdown is left to the discretion of each school's staff, he said.
When school administrators decided to put a lockdown in place, the signal was announced over the school's public address system.
Gillespie made his initial appearance in justice court in Payson Monday morning and pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor weapons charge. He was released to his mother and will be sentenced April 12 in Justice Court.