The Rev. Tom Nevius at Fremont Alliance Church is very clear: the church played only a small role in the response to last week’s lockdown incident at Fremont High School.
There were bigger heroes that day, Nevius said, like the law enforcement officers who responded to reports that two juveniles had entered the building with what appeared to be a handgun, later determined to be a BB gun.
But as officers descended upon the school, evacuating students room by room, Fremont Alliance, which is just across the street from the high school, emerged as a partner in the response, a rallying point where students were taken to wait until the situation was deemed safe.
It was a role that the church both embraced and, to some extent, was prepared for.
Roughly a month earlier, Nevius said, the school’s Coordinator of District Security Kevin Kavan had engaged the church about using the building as a potential gathering point during emergencies. The church was cooperative — but never expected that it would be used so soon.
“It was very hard for me to believe this was happening, because it happens in other places,” Nevius said. “There wasn’t a threat, there wasn’t a firearm found. But you didn’t know that. The unknown, that’s what gets you.”
Nevius had been in an appointment with someone at around 5 p.m. on Nov. 29 when the church secretary came in to alert him that the school was in lockdown and that students were coming in.
Nevius and four other staff members remained on hand to assist, ushering kids in and taking down their names on a sheet in order to keep track of who was there. Only about 40 students were in the high school at the time of the lockdown.
Parents were not initially allowed into the building, and once they were, they were kept in the church’s fellowship hall, separate from the kids, who were in the sanctuary.
That separation appears to have been directed by law enforcement, though it’s unclear which agency gave out that direction. The Fremont Police Department, Nebraska State Patrol and Dodge County Sheriff’s Office all responded to the scene.
“We were doing what we were told,” Nevius said.
As students waited for the all-clear, which came at 6:05 p.m., the church acted as more than a gathering point. Church staff had music playing to help create a calm environment. They made coffee to help pass the time. They prayed with some of the kids and parents as they waited.
“It was a different kind of evening for us,” Nevius said. “We were happy to open our building up.”
But Nevius recalls students’ demeanor during the event. He recalls seeing students simply standing around with each other, talking and taking the edge off. And while some students appeared upset, the general mood in the room was calm.
“There was some tension of course not knowing what really was happening, but the kids seemed to take it pretty well, pretty good,” he said. “They seemed to be handling it really really well. I was happy to see that. There were a few students who were upset, but beyond that I think they were taking it in stride.”
Fremont Public Schools and the Fremont Alliance Church have had a positive, “20-year plus” relationship, says Superintendent Mark Shepard. The two entities have often used each other’s facilities for different events.
“Obviously we really appreciated their cooperation and their willingness to help us in that situation,” Shepard said. “We have a number of partnerships across the community and continue to develop them for these kinds of situations. Not that we ever want to have to deal with these kinds of situations, but you have to be prepared if they present themselves.”
More recently, Kavan, whose position of coordinator for district security is new this year, has been reaching out to existing partners in the community like Fremont Alliance “so that we can strengthen those relationships and kind of formalize those relationships,” Shepard added.
Shepard noted that there are several contingencies in place during emergency situations, and that the plan would have been different had the lockdown event happened during the middle of the school day, when there would have been a significantly larger number of students in the building.
But last Thursday, the roughly 40 students in the building fell into the care of Fremont Alliance Church. Nevius directed most of his praise elsewhere.
“It was the law enforcement and the teachers and administrators and the school administrators and students and parents being able to stay so calm,” Nevius said. “They’re the real heroes of (last week) and they did a great job. “