Officials locked down Payson High School and Rim Country Middle School Tuesday morning when a man with a gun was spotted on the high school campus.
A cafeteria employee reportedly saw the man, in his 40s, dressed in all black walking from the Wilson Dome parking lot, though a back gate and onto school grounds, a semiautomatic handgun holstered to his hip.
School officials called police and officers circled the school off West Longhorn Road, setting up a mobile command in the school’s west parking lot.
As the PPD worked with school officials, the man in question overheard a description of the suspect and realized it was of him. Turns out, Gila County Probation Officer Dan McKeen was on campus to give a talk to Devon Wells’ class. She was expecting him.
Police Chief Don Engler could not say if McKeen had checked in with the front office, but no one he was working with from the school knew McKeen was on campus.
Police had the cafeteria worker verify McKeen was the right man then lifted the lockdown at 9:20 a.m.
Engler and Interim Superintendent Johnny Ketchem both praised students and staff for following protocol.
“They did a very good job. Obviously it is quite an undertaking to get an entire school locked down,” Engler said.
The district regularly holds practice lockdowns and most students and staff did not know it was the real thing. They huddled quietly in the classrooms as they had practiced.
There were no officers at the high school at the time of the call. PHS lost its school resource officer two years ago when a state grant ended.
A separate grant currently funds Officer Rory Vaughn at the middle and elementary schools. Engler said the town is applying for a grant that would put an officer back at the high school next year.
On the legislative front, one lawmaker has revived a proposal to arm teachers in the classroom. Republican Rep. David Stevens (R-Sierra Vista) is sponsoring House Bill 2412 to require schools to let teachers bring guns to school if they finish 24 hours of training on handling and storage and various scenarios and dealing with an active shooter. Attorney General Tom Horne supports the measure.
Stevens sponsored a similar bill last year, but it never received a hearing.
A separate gun bill, however, did make its way through the Senate last year. Sponsored by then-Republican Sen. Rich Crandall of Mesa, it would have armed only teachers in rural schools. It died in the House.