Janesville63.8°

Parents say they were left in dark during lockdown

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Kayla Bunge
October 28, 2008
— A Janesville mother said parents should have been better notified Monday afternoon about the lockdown at two city schools secured after police received a report of a suicidal man.

Police and school officials said they relied on local radio stations to let the community know what was happening.


Joy McKearn, the mother of a seventh-grader at Marshall Middle School, said she was driving to Kenosha when she received a call on her cell phone from her mother, who was picking up her children from school.


"She calls me up right away and says, 'Get back here as soon as possible. There are police everywhere. No one is telling me what's going on,'" McKearn said. "And I'm driving down the road, damn near freaking out.


"Of course, I'm thinking the worst."


She called "everybody she knew" to find out what was happening, but most of the parents she reached were in the dark, too.


McKearn said it would have been better if officers had been stationed outside the school to tell arriving parents about the situation.


"I understand that they're trying to protect our kids, but it didn't seem fair to me and my mom to have to go through all that and not know what's going on," she said.


"'The kids are safe.' That's all I wanted to hear."


Police turned to the local radio stations WCLO and WJVL to notify parents that Monroe Elementary School and Marshall Middle were on lockdown. Capt. Danny Davis said he initially left a message at the radio station but later spoke several times with radio station news staff to update the information.


The Janesville School District also turned to radio, said Sheryl Miller, district information specialist. She said she, too, initially left a message at the radio station, but by the time she spoke with station staff, the lockdown had been called off.


"It was a matter of timing yesterday," Miller said. "It couldn't have happened any more on top of dismissal at Marshall."


WCLO News Director Stan Stricker said police informed the radio news department of the lockdown shortly before 3:30 p.m., an interview was conducted and reporters prepared a statement to be read on air for both WCLO and WJVL. Stricker said the report was aired frequently until the radio station was informed by the school district the lockdown had ended shortly before 4 p.m.


Davis said officers responded to the neighborhood after receiving a report of a man in the apartment building across the street from Marshall Middle School had threatened to shoot himself. He later was taken into custody without incident.


Davis said he understands parents are upset that they weren't notified of the situation, but the timing of the incidentójust before school let out for the dayócalled for quick action.


"We don't get to dictate when emergencies in a community take place," he said. "They're thrown at us, and we have to adjust on the fly just like everybody else.


Davis said Lt. Keith Lawver "made a snap decision" to place both Marshall Middle School and nearby Monroe Elementary School on lockdown.


"Quite frankly, if that means that some parents or some students in the community are inconvenienced, then so be it," he said.


Davis said police typically confer with school administrators before putting a school on lockdown, but "this wasn't one of those times."


"If you think folks are upset now, imagine what it would be if we wouldn't have (locked down the schools) and had kids walking in the area," he said.


Davis said it was not only the timing of the incident but also the potential presence of a firearm that had police concerned for public safety.


"Once that bullet leaves the barrel of the gun, no one has control over where that goes," he said. "There are just a multitude of scenarios that could have played out. We wanted to minimize the risk to other people."


Davis said police understand that families are busy but the lockdown and the related inconvenience to parents was necessary.


"We take public safety pretty seriously, and while we certainly don't relish in the inconvenience, we're not willing to compromise on it," he said.



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