A lock down of Clinton schools after a shooting threat has left parents questioning school policies and the school reviewing its procedures. The lock down took place Wednesday, Jan. 10 just after 7 a.m. as students were arriving for the day’s classes.
Events leading to the lock down began the previous evening when Clinton Police received a call from an FBI agent about a threat the FBI had received when a caller told them about a man who intended to “shoot up the school,” police chief John Willoughby said.
The man, and the woman who claimed the man made the statement, were both known to area law enforcement. The pair have a contentious, at times physically violent, on-again-off-again relationship. During the off times the woman would frequently lodge complaints with area law enforcement about the man, accusing him of violence.
The woman said the threat to shoot up the school was made by the man last November, the FBI told Willoughby, he said.
Area law enforcement was made aware of the threat, including the sheriff’s office, which included Clinton School Resource officer Dave Hess. Hess, in turn, told Clinton School Superintendent Andrew Vining about the threat that evening, telling him it was “not credible,” Vining said.
By 11 p.m. that evening photos of the man accused of making the threat were distributed to area law enforcement. Van Buren County Sheriff Randy Gurley said he and deputies checked the school grounds at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning to prepare for a presence at school the following morning being made as a safety precaution.
Wednesday morning 12 officers, police and deputies and well as an Arkansas State Trooper, were on site at the school at 6 a.m. (Willoughby said in watching for the man accused of making the threat officers knew the man never drove. “He walks everywhere,” Willoughby said.)
By 7 a.m., Vining said, Willoughby and Gurley were in his office as law enforcement continued to oversee students arriving and by 7:25 a.m. the decision was made to place the school on lock down as a further safety precaution, Vining said. At that time, a statement from his office continued, it was too late to stop the arriving students, including buses. Lock down was the best safety precaution under these circumstances, he said.
Meanwhile an investigator had been sent by the sheriff’s department that morning to speak with the man accused of making the threat.
Gurley said later an investigator was not sent the evening before when the threat first became known, as he had been given the incorrect name of the woman who filed the complaint with the FBI. That wrong name was for a woman who lived in Clinton, and outside his jurisdiction, he said.
An investigator spoke with the man who said he had no intention of attacking the school. This was related to law enforcement at the Clinton school and the lock down was lifted.
The man, the investigator found out, was recently home from the hospital after suffering a skull fracture.
Investigation continues, and question remains, into what the woman told the FBI as was relayed to area law enforcement and what was actually said. After the lock down was lifted, multiple law enforcement sources said, the woman told an investigator that her and the man she accused were watching a movie late in November, in the plot of which a man shot up a school.
The woman told officers investigating her claim that the man said to her at the time “They are doing it wrong. If I was going to shoot up a school here’s how I would do it.”
Law enforcement is investigating if the threat she reported to the FBI was more dire and immediate than the movie review she explained to police after the fact.
In debriefing the incident Wednesday morning with school staff, Vining and staff agreed that the incident was a chance to review procedures, including notification. In the same meeting, SRO Hess encouraged an active shooter drill for the school which included participation by non law enforcement school staff.
The school has held active shooter drills in the past - as recently as last year - where law enforcement went to school grounds and planned and practiced its response.
Social media comments about the lock down, notably on Facebook, had a number of parents expressing dismay over the way the event was handled. One poster asserted the school was “using our babies as bait” as others asserted the school should have been closed for the day as soon as the threat was known. Others said the school should have transported students off campus, to nearby churches, until the lock down had passed. A number of posters stated they would be at the next school board meeting.
Vining and Hess both said several parents were upset during the lock down when, finding out the school was on lock down, they were not able to withdraw their children from school. This is standard policy, they explained, in order to assure safety of students.
Willoughby said it is rare for his department to receive threat reports from the FBI.
Read: Statement from school after lock down released the morning of the event.
Update: Jan. 12, 11:30 a.m.: A public meeting will be held at Clinton School Monday, Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. regarding the lock down incident. Representatives from law enforcement and the school district will be present.