There were lots of calls.
And upset people wondering why they weren’t notified sooner about a lockdown on Thursday at Fremont High School.
Local law enforcement and school officials answered these questions — and talked about problems caused through irresponsible social media posts — when they spoke at a half-hour press conference Friday in the Fremont police station.
On Thursday, law enforcement officials went to Fremont High School after a student reported seeing two other students enter the building with what appeared to be a handgun.
The school was placed on lockdown for two hours and police arrived to search the building, evacuating students room by room.
Police later located two juveniles a couple blocks away from the school. The juveniles were taken into custody. A 16-year-old male was released later Thursday evening without any charges. Both were Fremont Public Schools students, but do not attend FHS.
A 14-year-old male is in custody after being arrested on suspicion of making terroristic threats, a Class IIIA felony, in connection with Thursday night’s lockdown. The suspect was found with a BB gun that closely resembles a handgun.
During the press conference, Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott said he understood some citizens were upset that more people weren’t notified more quickly about the situation at the school.
But Elliott noted all the information — much of which was incorrect — that law enforcement was receiving was all at once.
“The situation developed very quickly,” Elliott said. “Although two hours sounds like a long time, it went by in the blink of an eye — trying to get everything done with multiple people and with all of the erroneous reports that were coming in at the time. It was hard to disseminate where we should place all our resources.”
Elliott outlined the variety of reports.
“There were all sorts of (misleading) red herrings going on that day — besides what was going on in social media,” Elliot said.
“We got calls from citizens in the area who were concerned,” Elliott continued. “In one instance, people found their garage door open and thought a shooter might be in their home.
“So we were responding to that.
“We got reports that a gun had been stolen north of the school. That report remains under investigation,” Elliott said. “We got calls from a number of different places that wanted to be put on lockdown.”
Elliott said all these calls were coming in at the same time, and law enforcement personnel were trying to sort through all the data.
“To expect information to be immediately put out on what was going on is fanciful because we didn’t have it ourselves,” Elliott said. “We can’t pass out information that we don’t know is correct.”
Elliott knows many people wanted information right away.
“It takes time to get the information out. The fact that it took two hours to do that — in my opinion — we did a good job,” he said.
Fremont Public Schools Superintendent Mark Shepard also addressed the information issue.
“We didn’t suddenly want mass hysteria,” Shepard said. “We had a big enough situation going on with enough concern within the community that we really wanted to make sure that we were not creating more of a problem.”
As the school began assembling information, officials worked with law enforcement to find an appropriate time to release it.
“We had students inside the building who didn’t know what was going on; we had parents obviously concerned — which I would be as well,” Shepard said. “The difficulty is — we didn’t want to create more of a situation than we were already dealing with.”
Shepard said the Nebraska State Patrol and 911 Dispatch released statements early on via social media.
“I think our local news outlets did a good job of getting information out there as well,” Shepard said.
Shepard also noted that — just like the students — staff was told to evacuate single file out of the school building.
“During that time, we were in the middle of putting together our communication,” Shepard said.
He also said the school has social media access along with a program used to contact families. That was used twice on Thursday.
“We continue to learn,” Shepard said. “We attend a lot of workshops and a lot of trainings, but until you’re in the middle of it, you really don’t understand the magnitude of it.”
Shepard talked about the problems caused by individuals spreading reckless misinformation via social media.
“One of the social media reports — very early — said, ‘Active shooter with injuries.’ One of the reports said, ‘Students being carried out on gurneys to ambulances.’ Just absolutely not true. Totally irresponsible,” Shepard said.
Elliott also spoke on the trouble caused by the false reports.
“There were cases on social media of people putting out names of alleged suspects — who were not the suspects in this case,” Elliott said.
Elliott had a few words for those spreading the misinformation.
“Get off social media and wait for the police to put things out there — even if it takes two or three hours,” Elliott said. “We’ll get the information out. Don’t put things out there that aren’t true. Unless you absolutely saw it with your own eyes don’t put it on Facebook.”
Elliott added that some misinformed posts even came from California, where people obviously didn’t know what actually was taking place.
Shepard did convey gratitude for students who reported seeing an individual with a firearm — something that was expressed in a written message shared with high school students.
“It’s not easy to come forward and say you saw something,” he noted.
But Shepard said students are urged that “If you see something, say something. If you know something, tell someone.”
“And that’s exactly what occurred,” Shepard said.
During the conference, Elliott also told why officers responded to the scene as they would to an active shooter situation even though no shots had been fired nor reports of injuries.
“Twenty years ago, the response to this would have been very different, because we didn’t have the mass shootings like this,” Elliott said. “Response would have been — one or two police officers go through the building and it would not have been the response you saw last night. But given everything that’s going on around the country, we don’t have any other option than to respond like that — because if we’re wrong — there really is a real gun and the suspect is shooting — we’ve got to be there to stop it.”
Elliott said officers will continue to train and assess how they did.
“It went about as well as you could have hoped,” Elliott said. “We did the best we could and I’m very pleased with the response. Everyone — from the school and all the agencies involved — felt that if nothing else this was a great training exercise for us. Everything worked out. We got an opportunity to run through a very scary situation without anyone getting hurt.”
Elliott deeply appreciates the support from the Nebraska State Patrol and the Dodge and Saunders county sheriffs’ departments who came to the scene.
He said support from the other agencies was instrumental, because “I simply did not have enough patrol officers to handle the situation on our own.”
Four or five patrol officers for the city were on duty Thursday as was Elliott. The department has 38 officers. Officers are always on call, but by the time they come in and get suited up, the incidents are over with, he said.
Shepard had strong words for students, who are thinking about making threats.
“It’s all of our responsibility to keep our community safe; in this day and age, you have to take everything seriously and we do,” Shepard said. “We’ve had several situations this year where individuals have been charged with felonies and I think at some point the message is going to get out that if you’re going to make these types of threats or proceed the way some of our students have proceeded — it’s not going to end well for you.”