School folks, police say things went well
While stressful, Wednesday’s evacuation of more than 400 students from Southwest Elementary School to the Tornado Dome where they could be picked up by parents went very smoothly, Clinton School Supt. Kevin Hime said Thursday.
Hime thought the communication between his people and law enforcement was very good.
“They were giving us great information and allowing us to make decisions,” he said. “Anytime every kid gets home safely, you’ve got to call that a great day.”
As reported previously, a lockdown was called at the school about 11:25 a.m. Hime said that was already getting into the lunch hour so the children were fed in the cafeteria, then bussed to the nearby Tornado Dome where they could be picked up by parents without creating traffic logjams.
He said the lockdown was the first Clinton schools have had since he became superintendent here eight years ago.
Clinton’s new police chief, Paul Rinkel, who was starting only his second day on the job, also thought things went smoothly.
“I would like to thank the Custer County Sheriff’s Office, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and their tactical team, the Clinton Fire Department, and Sinor Emergency Medical System for their assistance,” he said. “We all worked together as a team to, number one, make sure all the children were safe, and two, to get the incident resolved in a safe manner with a good resolution. I was proud of everybody. All those agencies, and the school, did such a great job. We pulled together as a team, which makes our community strong and my job easy.”
The school was notified and the lockdown called after Clinton police tried to arrest a man living across the street from the school on the east side of 19th Street. Asked if he had a gun, Rinkel said he could not comment at this time for evidentiary reasons. But he added, “He said he had a weapon. It’s better to be safe in those situations, particularly when an elementary school is involved.
“We went over to arrest him on a felony warrant to take him into custody. He just stated he was armed and would harm himself or us if anybody came in.”
Rinkel said Clinton police negotiated with the suspect, Ivan Troncoso, 56, until an OHP negotiating team arrived.
“We kept him calm until OHP could get there,” he said. “Tactical teams do their own thing. But we were involved in the entire incident and were in communication with them.”
As the Clinton Daily News reported yesterday, Troncoso was taken into custody at 2:48 p.m. Wednesday with no one hurt and no shots fired. That was after authorities requested that his father be brought to the scene.
Rinkel said that request was not made, though, to encourage him to surrender, but so the father could pick up his son’s dog.
“We understand his concern for his animal,” said the police chief, adding that in many cases pets are like members of the family.
Superintendent Hime lauded the Southwest School staff including Principal Nathan Meget for their work during the incident. “I felt like the Southwest staff and Mr. Meget did a great job,” he said. “I’ve not heard anything we would have done differently.”
Hime said that as soon as word was received that there could be someone with a gun across the street east of the school, all students on that side of the building were moved to the west side. Because the cafeteria was on the west side, it made it easier to feed them, take them out on that side, and then bus them to the Tornado Dome.
Students in the second, third and fourth grades as well as faculty and staff were moved. Meantime, the school was using all communication outlets at its disposal to notify parents.
“It’s a natural reaction of parents to want to get up there and get your child,” he said.
But police, he said, “were clear they did not feel there was an immediate danger.”
They and the Highway Patrol were communicating with Meget, the principal, rather than him, the superintendent, because he was in his office a couple of blocks away.
“Nathan was the one who was there,” he said. “If I tell you and you tell me, communication can break down. Mr. Meget was communicating with me, and I felt good about it. Everybody involved did a great job. It was just tremendous.
“When that’s happening right across the street and you’re responsible for 400 kids, that stress level is enormous. I was down the road, and they were right there. They were awesome.”
All the students were at the Tornado Dome by 12:45, an hour and 15 minutes after the incident started, said Hime.
Even though he didn’t think law enforcement felt there was an immediate danger, the superintendent said it was his understanding they were relieved to get the children further away. “I can’t imagine being a law enforcement officer in that situation,” he said.
“Law enforcement has one of the toughest jobs there is, and when you know you’re in that situation it adds stress. We do evacuation drills, and I think we took some of the stress off the officers because they didn’t have to worry about any of the 400 kids.”
Hime said the lawmen would also have been dealing with 500 parents and their “most precious cargo” once word spread that the school was on lockdown. “We’re always going to err on the side of safety,” he said.