It was a few tense hours at Frontier Elementary School Monday after students reported seeing a man with a gun in the area.
The school was put on lockdown around 11:30 a.m. after several third grade students said they saw a man in all black walking through the parking lot on East Frontier Street carrying a handgun, said Payson Police Chief Don Engler.
The lockdown was lifted around 1:30 p.m. after police secured the area. No one was injured and police did not locate anyone matching the description.
The incident started during lunch, when the students reported seeing a man in his early twenties with blond short hair walking through the school parking lot with what appeared was a handgun. The students told their teacher who informed school principal Paula Patterson. Patterson decided to put the school on lockdown.
Teachers quickly got students back into their rooms from outside, locked their doors and awaited instruction.
Superintendent Casey O’Brien said they practice lockdown procedures throughout the school year so students are not aware when it is a drill or the real thing.
While teachers know, students are not told to keep them calm, he said.
Police arrived on scene and searched the inside of the school. After determining it was safe inside, students were let out of their classrooms to complete lunch around 12:30 p.m. Students were not let outside until half an hour later, when police determined it was safe.
After removing the lockdown, police continued to search the area, however, no one matching the description was located, Engler said.
Several neighbors reported seeing a man that matched the description, but did not see anything out of the ordinary about him.
Police are continuing their investigation and will increase security at the school, Engler said.
A lockdown is called if the school determines students could be at risk.
O’Brien said in some cases, like when an adult reports seeing something unsafe, the school is immediately put in lockdown.
When a student reports seeing something, “we have to be more careful and might have to ask a few more questions,” he said.
“Putting a school in lockdown is something that at a minimum upsets the academic environment,” he said, “and it can last for several hours so we want to be certain.”
The school district, however, errs on the side of caution and will put a school in lockdown if a principal feels it is unsafe for students, O’Brien added.
The principal quickly determined there were consistency and enough detail between the students to warrant a lockdown Monday.
“I commend them for doing that,” O’Brien said of the students. “They saw something they thought was not safe and reported it.”
This coincides with the school’s code of conduct, which says to be respectful, responsible and safe.