LEWISTON — Seth Hutchinson, 17, was in his automotive technology classroom Monday at Lewiston Regional Technical Center when the lockdown announcement came over the intercom.
Several schools went in lockdown because of a safety concern of a firearm theft in the neighborhood, according to a Lewiston Police statement.
Lockdowns on four schools, Lewiston High School, the LRTC, the Green Ladle and Martel Elementary, were lifted after 1 p.m. Monday while police continued to search downtown for a firearm theft suspect.
Police were investigating a reported theft of a firearm in the vicinity, said Lt. David St. Pierre. Officers and detectives sought a suspect who was reportedly seen entering a Bates Street apartment building. After the lockdown was lifted, police continued their investigation on Bates Street.
At 2:45 p.m., three streets were still closed down — Bates, Birch and Knox — as police negotiated with a suspect.
Because the schools are close by, police recommended lockdowns “as a precaution.” There were no threats directed to the school, nor was there any reason to believe that children or school staff were ever in any danger, police said.
The impact for hundreds of high school students meant they didn’t eat. “We didn’t get lunch,” Hutchinson said. “We were starving.”
Around noon, Lewiston High School Principal Jake Langlais said the school was in a “hard lockdown. It wasn’t a drill.”
As soon as he was made aware of the situation, “we moved kids in the cafeteria to safer locations away from windows. That resulted in some not finishing their lunch.”
Students in the cafeteria were moved to classrooms. Over the intercom “I told students, ‘I need you to get to the nearest classroom and follow lockdown procedures.’ I did tell them this was a real threat on the outside of the campus. There were no threats on our building. I wanted the students to know there were police surrounding the area. We were going to be safe.”
Students followed procedures and cooperated, the principal said.
Students and staff did a great job, said Langlais. “There certainly was some anxiety. People knew this was real and not a drill.”
After a while the “hard” lockdown where students were in locked classrooms was lifted, and the school went to a “soft” lockdown, which meant students could move about the school.
Dismissal was as normal at 2 p.m., but after school activities were called off, Langlais said.
Seth Hutchinson said he and other students were bored during the hard lockdown. After, he and others were hungry and frustrated.
“Everybody in LRTC did not eat today,” he said. “That’s a lot of kids. They could have handled that better.” Hutchinson said he understands that the lunch period had to be called off. “But they should have found a way to get us food. We were starving.”
The school did do a good job keeping students informed, Hutchinson said.
Langlais said he made several announcements to keep students updated.
After the initial announcement, he did more at 1:40 and another at 1:55 p.m., Langlais said. “I shared that the Lewiston Police Department had isolated the threat, there was no longer a situation about safety on our campus.”
Some parents complained that they were not notified, others said they received robo calls or electronic messages.
Langlais said parents were sent emails or voice mails and he tweeted about the lockdown. The school can’t reach everyone if they don’t have the current contact information, Langlais said.
“With a fast moving situation, we try to make sure everyone is safe. It’s worth noting if we don’t have updated information our system won’t be able to reach them.”
A notice dispatched to parents and staff said: “We are in a lockdown at Lewiston High School. There has been a report of a threat outside of the school. There are no safety concerns inside the school. Lewiston Police Department is conducting a sweep of our area to make sure the grounds are safe.”
Community Resource Officer Charlie Weaver of the Lewiston Police Department talks with a motorist about the lockdown at Lewiston High School on Monday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)