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Brent Wasenius / Evan. Nordstrom / Fremont Tribune 

Emma Shepard of Fremont High drives to the basket as Mira Patel of Lincoln East defends during the 2017 Early Bird Classic at FHS. The Tigers defeated the Spartans 60-54 on Thursday night in the classic. 

Tony Gray / Tammy Real-McKeighan, Fremont Tribune 

Worried parents gather across the street from Fremont High School following reports of a lockdown at the school Thursday evening in Fremont.

Fremont High School no longer in lockdown after reports of weapon; two suspects in custody

Two juvenile suspects were apprehended, and one remains in custody after Fremont High School went into a lockdown a little after 4 p.m. Thursday.

No shots were fired and no one was injured, though one of the suspects was found with a weapon, said Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott.

The Fremont Family YMCA and the Dillon Family Aquatics Center also were put on lockdown due to the situation at the high school.

At approximately 4 p.m. on Thursday, a student notified Fremont High School administration that another student potentially had a handgun, according to FPS Superintendent Mark Shepard.

The administration put the school on lockdown and immediately called the police.

Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott said officers who responded to the scene were not able to immediately locate the suspect so a search of the building began.

“Because of the size of the school and the number of students who were still inside additional officers from Dodge County Sheriff’s Office, Saunders County Sheriff’s Office and Nebraska State Patrol responded and assisted in the search,” said Elliott, who wasn’t certain about the number of students inside.

Elliott estimated about 20 officers went to the scene. The suspects were found approximately two blocks from the school at 6:01 p.m. One was ultimately released from custody, while the other was still in custody as of 7:50 p.m. on Thursday.

“Ultimately, two suspects were located outside some distance from the school and they were taken into custody,” Elliott said. “No shots were fired. No one was injured. They had some sort of weapon, but I can’t confirm that it was even a firearm at this time.”

Fremont Fire Department paramedics were on scene as a precaution in case of any injuries.

According to Shepard, police responded and cleared the building room by room. The administration received the all-clear from law enforcement at approximately 6:05 p.m.

“We do appreciate the swiftness that the police department and the state patrol acted on, as well as the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department,” Shepard said. “We were able to work very closely with them as we do in all these kinds of situations.”

Fremont Public Schools later announced that all Fremont Public Schools will be in session Friday.

Just after 5 p.m., when the lockdown was still in effect, Lincoln Avenue, which runs north and south outside the main entrance to the school, was blocked off by law enforcement vehicles on either end of the school.

At the scene, students were seen being taken to Fremont Alliance Church across the street, where worried parents were waiting in the parking lot, as a steady drizzle persisted and skies darkened.

At around 5:20 p.m., Cindy Hartgrave was outside the church, waiting for her daughter, Penelope, who later came out of the school unharmed. Penelope had called her at around 4 p.m. asking to be picked up from school. By the time Hartgrave arrived at the school, officers were already there. Then, she saw a state trooper with a rifle.

“That’s when that scared me,” she said.

The Fremont Family YMCA, which is located approximately eight blocks south of the high school, also went on lockdown for approximately 30-35 minutes — with the lockdown being lifted at 5:30 p.m.

“Since we have a lot of people in the building, we went on lockdown because of the school being on lockdown and its proximity to our facility,” Jerry Rinne, YMCA President, said.

Fremont High School’s first ever swim and dive meet at the Dillon Family Aquatics Center was scheduled for Thursday night. It resumed later in the evening. Student athletes were taken to locker rooms during the lockdown, Rinne said.

“We had all of them go in the locker room and locked the doors to get them away from any windows, but they are resuming right now,” he said just after 6 p.m. “We spoke to the athletic director and the athletic director spoke with the superintendent of schools—they gave us the go ahead and said everything was clear.”

There were no athletic events scheduled at the High School. Conditioning for the soccer teams was taking place in the East Gym from 3:45-4:45 p.m., according to the school’s activities calendar. The FHS wrestling team was at Blair for a dual meet while the FHS girls and boys basketball teams were playing at Lincoln East for the first round of the Early Bird Classic.

“It went as well as we could hope,” Elliott said of the situation, expressing thanks to all law enforcement agencies that responded to assist.

Tammy Real-McKeighan, Fremont Tribune 

Mollie Brown, left, school-to-career coordinator, checks her phone while nervous family members wait on the Fremont Alliance Church lawn for students to exit Fremont High School which was in lockdown on Thursday.

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Students talk about being inside school during lockdown

Emma Maple and McKenna Dather were in the Tiger Achievement Center (TAC) room when the announcement came over the loudspeaker.

Fremont High School Assistant Principal Myron Sikora told students the school was in a lockdown.

“We thought it was just a drill, not an actual lockdown,” Dather said.

Students soon learned the school was in a real lockdown.

Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott later confirmed that two suspects were found outside – approximately two blocks from the school – and taken in custody.

No shots were fired and no one was injured, but nervous parents and family members texted and talked on cell phones and waited in the Fremont Alliance Church parking lot across the street in the drizzle as darkness ensued.

After the lockdown announcement, Maple and Dather said the lights were shut out and students sat on the floor and waited for what seemed like a long time.

“We didn’t hear anything,” Dather said.

The situation proved unnerving.

“We were so nervous, we couldn’t really think,” said Maple, a freshman.

Sophomore Jorge Rivera and his friends were conditioning for soccer.

They heard Sikora’s announcement, too.

“We went to the girls’ locker room,” he said because it was the nearest safe place to go. “We were all quiet and sat down. They turned off the lights, but there were some lights that didn’t turn off.”

The students sat and were quiet for about an hour and 50 minutes, he said.

“Some of the girls were really scared and they were crying,” Rivera said. “Some were not scared and really calm.”

Officers made their way to the TAC room.

“After so long, the cops opened the door and told us to get up and put our hands up. We were walking down the hall and they told us to hold hands,” Maple said.

Dather added that students had to hold hands while walking in a straight line.

“We walked out of the doors and we came here,” said Maple as she stood near her mother, Debbie, inside the Alliance church.

Rivera and other students also waited until police knocked on the girls’ locker room door.

“We had to hold hands and then we left the building,” he said.

Once outside Rivera saw all the law enforcement vehicles and people standing in the church yard.

The Rev. Tom Nevius, senior pastor, said the church opened its doors to take in the students and parents. Students were told to put their names on a sheet. The church served coffee.

Nevius commended the students.

“The kids are doing great,” he said. “They’re handling this really well.”

Students and their siblings and parents filled the front entryway of the church.

Inside, Barbara Hernandez smiled. Her 15-year-old sister, Esmeralda, was safe.

Earlier in the evening, Barbara said she’d received a text from Esmeralda saying the school was in lockdown.

“There’s four cops outside the building,” Esmeralda texted as she sat in a locker room. “They’re looking for someone.”

Barbara texted her sister: “Turn your ringer off so you don’t make any sounds.”

Esmeralda said no one was being allowed to talk and they were in the dark.

When Barbara said their mom wanted to come to the school, Esmeralda texted back with: “No, oh my gosh, tell her to stop.”

Barbara said her sister told her the officers had guns and there were many police cars. Barbara and her mom stood in the dark on the church lawn waiting for Esmeralda to come out with other students.

Nearby, Erika Maldonado waited for word of her sister, Yadira Gamboa.

“It’s scary,” Maldonado said.

About an hour or so later, Maldonado appeared to wipe away a tear as she and other family members gathered with students inside the church.

After a while, students were told they could go with their parents or get their own vehicles and go home.

Rivera didn’t have his cell phone – it was in the school and students weren’t being allowed back inside.

Tammy Real-McKeighan, Fremont Tribune 

Family members and friends wait in the darkness and drizzle on Thursday night for students inside Fremont High School which was in a lockdown for a couple of hours.

House Republicans lose farm bill battle on new work requirements

WASHINGTON — Federal food aid recipients won’t be faced with major new work requirements. And changes in forestry policy that made environmentalists furious are gone.

House Republicans gave up Thursday on trying to include those provisions in a massive farm policy bill, clearing the way for a vote in Congress next week.

The concessions will likely help draw Democratic votes to the bill in the House. Democrats indicated support would be more bipartisan and follow similar numbers on past farm bills, which tend to pass comfortably.

The farm bill will reauthorize the nation’s nearly $900 billion in food and agriculture programs for another five years. That includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, which helps low-income families pay for food. The bill also deals with crop insurance, a program that protects farmers against financial losses due to disasters and droughts.

Out is the House Republicans’ plan, which aimed to expand work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries. The GOP wanted the work rules to apply to able-bodied adults up to age 59 and to people with young dependent children, an unpopular prospect to Democrats. Leaving that out will mean more support from House Democrats but will alienate some Republicans.

House Republicans lacked enough clout to push for the stricter work requirements after Democratic victories in this month’s House elections.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the lead negotiator for the Senate, was vague about the specific provisions in the compromise. But when asked if the bill would be closer to the Senate’s plan for SNAP, Roberts replied, "I would say, yes."

The Senate plan included incentives for states to expand work training programs and added new accountability measures to the program.

"It’s more comprehensive and focuses on program integrity," Roberts said.

A senior Democratic staff member said while SNAP provisions did mostly reflect the Senate version, there were certain "concessions" given to House Republicans. But those concessions will be "tweaks and tightening" to work requirements, not "big sweeping increases," the staff member said.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said that the House would largely have to accept the Senate’s position on the nutrition program.

"I don’t think we can get a single Democrat to vote for some of the requirements in the House nutrition title," Thune said.

Some House Republicans are already signaling the changes mean they won’t support the final bill.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., said on Twitter that he couldn’t support the new version of the farm bill after the concessions on some key issues.

"House conservatives, the president and the vast majority of Americans support policies that encourage work and help lift people out of poverty. As I’ve said for months, those provisions have to stay," Walker said.

But Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., a House Agriculture Committee member, said, "I think we can get it passed," but added, "For me to sit here and say we’re not going to lose some Republican votes, I can’t say that." Marshall supports the bill because it preserves crop insurance, a top priority for his district.

Thune said Republicans would also make concessions in the debate over forest fires, an issue that had been elevated to the Senate and House leadership teams after negotiators reached an impasse on the issue in the wake of deadly wildfires in California.

President Donald Trump’s administration and House Republicans advocated for new rules that would expedite forest-thinning projects, but Democrats and environmental groups successfully protested the measure, warning it would be an ineffective tool against fires. Those controversial provisions will be completely stripped from the final version.

The bill will also include a provision that makes it legal for farmers to grow and market hemp products, Roberts confirmed.

"I think it’s going to be a good crop everywhere," Roberts said. "There’s all sorts of industrial use for that. We’re not talking about cannabis. We’re talking about industrial hemp, so it’s another crop that we’re very hopeful can be a real income producer."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had strongly advocated hemp legalization. His home state was once a major producer of the crop before its production became outlawed. The 2014 farm bill had included a provision that allowed states to make limited hemp cultivation legal.

Senators from both parties indicated the final bill would widely resemble the Senate version of the bill rather than the House version, which passed without a single Democratic vote. The Senate requires at least 60 votes to pass the bill, which means the 51 Republican senators need Democratic support to pass it, unlike in the House, where Republicans currently have a majority.

The deal came together Wednesday, nearly two months after the Sept. 30 deadline to pass the bill.

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Fremont library gets gift of more than $75,000

It was a surprise.

And something that should benefit not only current but future generations of patrons at Keene Memorial Library.

Last week, the Fremont library received a gift of more than $75,000 from the estate of the late Betty Lou H. Jelinek.

“This was a very unexpected gift and having it come at the holiday season is very heartwarming,” said Tina Walker, library director.

The funds, donated to the Friends of Keene Memorial Library’s A Trust, will go toward the library’s expansion project — estimated to cost between $10 million and $12 million.

“This will help us with moving forward with our project. It will be added to the funds that the A Trust and the Friends have already accumulated,” Walker said.

The library expansion project will be funded mostly through private donations and grants with the $2 million bond issue — approved by voters in May — helping to act as matching funds for the grants.

With the bond issue and donations, the Friends group has about $3,200,000 so far, Walker said.

Another $2 million to $3 million will be needed to put funds at the halfway mark of the $10 to $12 million project.

The rest of the $2 million to $3 million will come from private donations and the last 50 percent hopefully will come from grant money, she said.

Jelinek, who was at Nye Legacy in Fremont, was among readers there who benefit from a library outreach program.

Through this program, Elisa Cruz, circulation manager and adult services librarian, and Ann Hoppe, a library assistant 3, take books to various centers.

Walker said the two began conducting an adult storytime and have a poetry reading and discussion at a couple of care centers.

People of all ages can benefit from library services including future generations.

Walker points out famous individuals who were greatly helped by going to a library as children and youth.

“My best example is Warren Buffett,” Walker said. “He always makes comments about ‘He is who he is today,’ because he spent the majority of his life in libraries when he was younger,” Walker said.

She points to a quote in which the influential billionaire businessman, investor and speaker said he started reading about investing when he was 7 years old.

By the time he was 12, Buffett had read every book in the Omaha Public Library on investing and the stock market.

Noted authors such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz also are very supportive of libraries, Walker said.

Walker has outlined the need for local library expansion. A few reasons include:

• The library is at maximum capacity for the physical materials.

• The library wants to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for entryways, restrooms and the elevator.

• The current building needs updating on electrical, structural, plumbing and flooring.

• The library’s auditorium is no longer big enough to support programming needs.

• There is not a separation between the children, young adult and adult sections.

• There are numerous issues with sound and noise.

Walker believes expanding the library is important.

“We have outgrown the size of the building,” Walker said. “As the community changes and our services change, our need for physical space changes,” Walker said.

Community meeting rooms are essential for businesses to host educational events. The library will be able to provide more programming and services such as additional classes for technology, more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and bring in more partnerships for community services such as Work Force Development, she said.

The project involves extending the current building to the east with a two-story expansion.

“We will be demolishing the small annex and the house the Trust currently owns,” Walker said. “This also means the current library will be completely remodeled as the new and old become one large library.”

Architects have designed a structure that melds together for safety and security purposes and ease of use for patrons, based on the community feedback they received.

“In the end, we will have a space for everyone to call their own — children, teens, and adults,” Walker said. “We will also have many study rooms and large community meeting rooms to accommodate more requests for meeting space. These spaces will also have state-of-the-art technology for presentations.

“The expansion will also include a catering kitchen to offer lunch-n-learns and other events.”

Walker said the number of parking spaces will increase and the library’s front entrance will not have stairs.

The library director has been working on a website with information and photos about the project which is available by visiting:

Website information states that the current library at 1030 N. Broad St., opened in 1971 and was built when Fremont’s population was 23,000.

Fremont’s last census showed a population of 26,500 people.

“The actual service area of the library could be as high as 36,600, or the population of Dodge County, because so many county residents pay for nonresident cards each year,” the website states.