On Friday, Nov. 30, Stoller Middle School in Bethany was locked down for more than four hours as law enforcement searched the school room by room, after an email threat was received by several Beaverton School District administrators.
Nothing suspicious was located in the searches of the building, which concluded at 4:41 p.m. Friday, but it took until 8:13 p.m. to release all students back to their parents.
On Wednesday, Dec. 5, law enforcement, school officials and parents and guardians met to talk about out what went right and what went wrong that day. Several hundred Stoller parents packed into the commons area of Westview High School to ask questions of the Washington County law enforcement officials who responded to the incident, as well as school and district representatives.
Many parents expressed frustration over how the incident was handled, while others thanked officers and school staff for their dedication to the safety of students.
Most, however, shared the same questions and concerns: whether there are any new leads in the investigation into where the email came from; what changes, if any, the school will be making to its building's security; whether a threat to students still exists; and how situations like this might be handled differently in the future.
The Times has requested a copy of the threatening email. Beaverton School District officials turned down the request on behalf of the Sheriff's Office, saying it was evidence in an ongoing Sheriff's Office investigation.
"One piece of information that I would like to share with you that is new from our investigation is that the email alluded to a threat of a firearm, and that's why we took the precautions we did," said Washington County Sheriff's Office Lt. John Bennett, who also serves as supervisor to Washington County's school resource officers. "It was a threat of violence, and it was unclear at the time who the email came from or where it came from, so we still don't have that locked down quite yet. Our detectives are working on that diligently. … That process does not happen overnight."
The decision to search every room was a result of the contents of the email, Bennett said. Based on what was sent, deputies were concerned that a possible suspect was already inside the building and planning to do harm.
After the lockdown was lifted, parents and guardians with photo ID were asked to pick their students up. That process took close to four hours.
"We know that this process will be lengthy and many parents/guardians are frustrated," a Twitter post from the Beaverton School District acknowledged just before 6 p.m. that Friday. "Please know that we need to account for every student and match them up with the correct parent/guardian. We appreciate your patience."
Numerous parents expressed annoyance during Wednesday's meeting about the timeliness of the reunification process.
The district's deputy superintendent of operations, Carl Mead, said he agreed with parents' concerns. The process could have been handled better, he said, such as by having parents staged at nearby Jacob Wismer Elementary School rather than waiting outside in the cold weather for their students.
"We have discussed that," Mead said. "That should have been our staging area for our parents so they could have stayed dry, warm, inside a facility, and we could have brought parents over in groups of 25 and expedited that process."
There was a major delay on the part of school administrators in communicating with students, several parents said during the meeting. One parent said her son texted her an hour into the lockdown to ask whether it was a drill or not. Parents received the alert 20 minutes after the threat was received, she said, yet her son inside the school was still not aware of what was going on.
"See how we can improve if situations like this occur in the future," she asked.
Many parents questioned whether Stoller will see any changes in terms of building security following last Friday's scare.
"You can just literally walk into a school at any time," a parent said during Wednesday's meeting. "The only thing that is stopping someone is that a parent, or whomever is entering, is supposed to report to the office. … There is no security barrier whatsoever. One of the things that I hope you guys take into consideration, as (the Beaverton School District) particularly, is we need to put some security barrier. You can't have anybody just walk in off the street straight into the school, particularly while school is in session."
Stoller principal Veronica Galvan assured parents that changes are coming.
"There are some things that we are going to have to change. That is where we are, unfortunately," Galvan told the group. "Our parents are used to bringing lunches and just coming in, and we are going to have to tighten that up. … We are getting a door right in front of where (the secretary) is in the main office so that those other doors are going to be locked. We are going to get keyless entry, so things are coming. ... We need to know who is in our building."
School officials and law enforcement in attendance reiterated to parents that discussions between them are ongoing and they will use what was learned in Friday's events to be better prepared in the future. In the meantime, while Bennett said he does not believe there is an ongoing threat to students, additional security will remain at Stoller until the investigation has closed, he said.
"The reason why we did what we did and why we do what we do is for the protection of the kids and for staff," Bennett said. "We know we can improve and we know we can do better. And that's the whole purpose of us doing this. If we thought everything went perfect, none of us would be sitting here tonight. We know there is room for improvement, and we are working on it."
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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