A 911 call on Tuesday about a truck driving in the direction of Libby Public Schools while holding what appeared to be a firearm ended with no real threat, but the response from the schools and law enforcement demonstrated improvements both have made.
Libby Police Chief Scott Kessel and Libby Public Schools Superintendent Craig Barringer agreed that the situation both demonstrated the results of the work put into coordination and provided lessons for the future.
The 911 caller originally reported that they were driving on Louisiana Avenue when they saw a tan truck westbound on Balsam. The caller described the driver as hanging out the window of the truck holding what appeared to be a shotgun, according to the release.
The apparent firearm was not pointed at the caller, and the truck continued west on Balsam.
On receiving the call, Kessel said he had dispatch contact the schools.
Though there was no information that the schools might be involved, Kessel said the precaution was taken because of the vehicle’s direction of travel.
The schools initiated their response protocols, Barringer said. Libby elementary went into lockdown, then transitioned to lockout as more information became available.
Libby Middle/High School and Libby Preschool and Kootenai Valley Headstart went into lockout, as did the Central School.
Barringer explained the difference between a lockdown and a lockout:
During a lockdown, not just the exterior doors but the interior doors are locked and students are kept in the classrooms. During a lockout, the exterior doors are locked and no one is allowed to enter or leave the school, but the school continues to function as normally as possible.
After the schools were on lockout and Barringer was notified of the situation, he put out a call to parents to let them know what was going on.
“We did not call first, to the parents,” he said. “We made sure that our buildings were secure and things were taken care of — and we knew what we were calling about.”
Barringer said that the first priority is the safety of students and staff. Once that is ensured, the schools also want to avoid putting out incomplete or incorrect information during a fluid situation.
But between the first rumors hitting social media and the time it took to implement safety procedures and put out a notification, the schools were swamped with calls.
Barringer said he was not sure if the schools would have been able to make a call out if they needed to due to the number of incoming calls.
Additionally, some parents were texting teachers, who need to focus on the safety of students.
“I guess I would say to parents, be patient,” Barringer said.
Barringer said he understands the desire parents have to know, but that the schools and law enforcement need to focus on making sure their children are safe.
As the schools were being notified, Kessel responded to the high school, and a Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputy responded to the elementary school.
“So we actually had a police presence on scene too,” Kessel said.
Kessel located a vehicle matching the description in the high school parking lot. On the front seat in plain view, he found two toy guns with realistic appearance that fire plastic pellets.
“Once we identified what we had, I got the information out as quickly as I could,” he said.
Kessel said he feels it is important to keep the public informed, but the first priority is safety.
Once there is time to put out information, Kessel said he still wants it to be accurate.
“I don’t want to cause a panic as happened in the past,” he said. “I’m not going to go off and give you half information, and have half the information put out, so it turns into an inaccurate story, because it’s incomplete.”
When the vehicle with the Airsoft toy guns was located in the high school parking lot, law enforcement made contact with the student and confiscated the toy guns, according to Kessel’s initial media release.
Because there was no threatening action such as pointing the toy guns at someone or pulling into the school parking lot brandishing them, there were no criminal charges, Kessel said.
“Right now, there’s been no criminal act — that doesn’t mean it wasn’t stupid, but the driver who called it in was very specific: this wasn’t pointed at them,” he said.
Barringer said that the student involved faced disciplinary action from the school.
The schools have been doing practices and drills for at least a year, and each time, opportunities are identified for improvement, Barringer said. Though he did not go into details, he said there were minor things he felt could be improved on in future preparations.
With no real threat to safety, the situation Tuesday still served as good practice, Barringer said. “It was a fairly fluid, quick situation.”
As to the procedures and coordination between the schools and law enforcement, Kessel said this situation went more smoothly because of past training and experience.
“Is there continually room for improvement and refining things? You bet,” he said. “But, yeah, this went a lot smoother.”