WENATCHEE — A woman walking by Lewis and Clark Elementary School with what appeared to be an assault rifle prompted the lockdown of the school at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
Police responded and discovered it was an Airsoft pellet gun that looked like an AR-15 assault rifle, said Sgt. Jim West with the Wenatchee Police Department.
A woman in her 20s, wearing a camo outfit, was carrying it as part of a Halloween costume. A passing motorist saw her walking in front of the school, 1130 Princeton St., and called 911. About a dozen officers sped to the school. Some heavily armed officers entered the school, as parents, waiting to pick up their children, watched.
About 35 minutes later, officers located the woman at a nearby apartment and gave her some advice.
“We told her that carrying a weapon like that was probably not the wisest of ideas,” West said.
For parents waiting outside the school to pick up their children, the tension was palpable.
“It was surreal,” said Wendy Hulse, whose son Timmy is in kindergarten. “There was a line of parents across the street and some were holding hands and crying. Everyone was speaking in hushed voices with rumors going up and down the line of parents that a gunman was inside the school, and another rumor that said a gunman was outside the school.”
When the lockdown ended shortly after 3 p.m., the children streamed out of school.
“I’ve never hugged my son so hard,” Hulse said.
Parents had seen numerous officers with rifles slung over their shoulders searching the outside of the school, while others were searching inside the school.
“Those cops were amazing; they knew what they were doing, there was no question,” said Melissa Wisen, who waited outside to pick up her fourth-grade son Tyler. She said she watched as police officers “took massive guns out of the backs of their cars” but said she was relieved that all the guns were put away when the students came out of school.
She said her son told her his class was in the library when the lockdown happened.
“He said the worst thing was hearing the principal say, about three different times over the loudspeaker, ‘This is not a drill; this is a lockdown.’ ”
A librarian read fourth-graders a story during the lockdown. “He doesn’t remember the story,” she said. “He obviously, mentally, was not quite in the story.”
Capt. Kevin Dresker said the response included five to six officers, two detectives, two Chelan County sheriff’s deputies and two officers with the state Department of Corrections.”
“If it had been a real situation and there was someone out there with a rifle we want to be ready to deal with the situation,” Dresker said. “We have had a lot of training on rapidly-evolving situations and I think that helps. With all the recent issues happening around the country, that’s something we try to prepare for.”
He said officers were able to find the woman with an Airsoft rifle because someone called the RiverCom dispatch center to say that the woman was a friend and told officers where to find her.
Principal Alfonso Lopez said he thinks his staff handled the situation professionally. He said when the lockdown ended, his phone system allows him to make one call that reaches all the parents with children at the school.
In Northern California late last month, a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a 13-year-old boy who was carrying a pellet gun that looked like an AK-47 assault rifle.
The deputy later told investigators he believed his life as well his partner’s was in jeopardy. The deputy said the teen didn’t comply with commands to drop the gun and was turning toward the deputies while raising the barrel.