A 14-year-old male remains in custody after being arrested on suspicion of making terroristic threats, a Class IIIA felony, in connection with Thursday night’s lockdown incident at Fremont High School, the Fremont Police Department said.
The suspect was found with a BB gun and was one of two juvenile suspects that police apprehended approximately two blocks from the high school just after 6 p.m. Thursday. Neither of the juveniles are Fremont High School students, and one was questioned and released Thursday night.
The 14-year-old suspect, a Fremont resident, is being held at the Northeast Nebraska Juvenile Services Center in Madison.
At around 4 p.m., a student at the high school reported seeing the two students enter the building with what appeared to be a handgun and reported it to school officials. The school was placed on lockdown and police arrived to search the building, evacuating students room by room.
According to police, subsequent interviews with additional witnesses revealed that, at one point, the juvenile showed the BB gun to some students inside the school building and told one of the students to “back off,” which made that student feel threatened. That student was not the same student who first reported the incident to school officials.
No shots were fired. No one was injured.
Fremont Public Schools Superintendent Mark Shepard said there was a large law enforcement presence at local schools on Friday morning, which included Fremont Police, Nebraska State Patrol and the FHS resource officer.
Only about 40 students were in the school during the Thursday lockdown, Shepard said during a Friday morning press conference at the police station.
Shepard said school, which has 1,500 total students enrolled, had been dismissed for about 30 minutes when the lockdown occurred.
The wrestling, swimming and basketball teams were on their way to or engaged in competition outside of Fremont.
“We did have several groups that were practicing in the gymnasium,” Shepard said. “We also had a group practicing in the auditorium and some students there for additional support after school.”
The situation began when a student reported to an assistant FHS principal that two individuals – who weren’t high school students – were in the building. Shepard said the doors were locked at 4 p.m., but a video indicates the two individuals walked into the building as someone else walked out.
As high school administration was making its way down a hall to identify these people, another FHS student said they saw what they thought was a gun in one of the individual’s waistbands.
At that point, a decision was made to go into lockdown, Shepard said. Students and staff moved into secured areas, locked doors and turned out lights.
Shepard said law enforcement responded immediately. About 38 personnel would ultimately come into the building from Fremont Police, the Nebraska State Patrol, and Dodge and Saunders Sheriff’s Department deputies.
Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott said officers had information about the suspect’s identity, including a description, but no indication that shots had been fired or any injuries occurred.
Even so, officers responded with the assumption that it could be an active shooter.
“We never know – having been involved in all sorts of situations like this – you always take them seriously,” Elliott said.
Officers arrived at the scene with weapons, helmets and vests. When they arrived, they weren’t able to locate the suspect so a search of the area began.
“When we go through training, we’re taught to go to the sound of the gunfire. In this particular case, there was no gunfire so we had to search that place one room at a time until we knew the suspects weren’t there,” Elliott said.
Officers continued the room-by-room search and began evacuating students – but noticed they didn’t have a good place to take them after they were brought out of the building.
A State Patrol captain made arrangements for students to be taken across the street to Fremont Alliance Church, with which Shepard said the school has a good relationship.
It would take police a little over two hours to locate the suspect while rooms were searched and students evacuated.
Elliott said the juveniles, who got out of the school before officers arrived, were wandering around the neighborhood.
The two juveniles were located and taken into custody. A 16-year-old male was released later in the evening without any charges. Both were Fremont Public Schools students, but do not attend FHS, Fremont Middle School or Johnson Crossing Academic Center. Shepard said they are part of another FPS program, but did not identify which.
Once the juveniles were located, law enforcement methodically went back through the school again room by room to make sure they didn’t miss anything or that there was another student they didn’t know about.
The high school wasn’t the only place that went into lockdown – the Fremont Family YMCA, which was hosting a swim meet at the Dillon Family Aquatics Center, and Midland University did so as well.
During the press conference, Fremont Police Lt. Ed Watts displayed the confiscated black BB gun, which closely resembles a handgun with a clip that appears to hold BBs.
“Looking at the color, the shape, the design, I think anyone who saw this would think this is a real gun,” Elliott said. “You’ll find lots of BB guns, toy guns, that have some kind of a color on the tip – red, orange, green, yellow – so that somebody that observes it can see it’s a toy.”
The confiscated gun does not have that colored tip. Elliott said many kids have removed the tips from these guns in the past.
“It looks just like a firearm that we would carry,” Watts said.
Elliott said law enforcement has had multiple calls of people with firearms that turn out to be BB guns.
But Elliott noted the dangers to someone carrying such a weapon if confronted by law enforcement, who could mistake it for a handgun.
“Somebody displaying a weapon like that to a police officer could easily have ended up shot,” Elliott said. “Luckily, that did not happen. The suspect was taken into custody quickly and no one got hurt.”
Watts said he doesn’t have information on why the two individuals went into the school. A detective is scheduled to talk with the individual in custody.
The investigation is continuing and additional charges could be filed.
Shepard said the high school has a full counseling staff and several students came in to talk with them Friday morning.