Officials: Report of gun near school found to be false alarm

Staff writerMarch 13, 2013 

Olympia detectives have interviewed a man who fits the description of a person who was reportedly carrying a rifle near two local schools Tuesday morning, and the “long black object” in his hand was in fact an umbrella.

Three Olympia schools were put on lockdown Tuesday morning as police investigated a report of a man in a ski mask carrying a rifle.

The police were called around 7:45 a.m. when someone reported the man on Quince Street Northeast and San Francisco Avenue Northeast walking in the direction of Roosevelt Elementary School, according to Olympia Police spokesperson Laura Wohl.

The man seen was wearing a ski mask and black clothing. Olympia police, Thurston County Sheriff’s deputies and Washington State Patrol troopers were called to the search area.

A Lewis County Sheriff’s Office search dog was brought to the scene to try to track the man.

As part of the investigation, Intercity Transit made a security video from the nearby bus route available to detectives. The video shows a man boarding the bus within minutes of the original 911 call. Similar to the description from the call, the man was dressed all in black, with a black stocking cap, and had a long black object in his hand. Upon close review, the object was identified as an umbrella, not a rifle as earlier reported, according to a news release.

Tuesday afternoon, Olympia detectives were able to contact the man from the video, who lives in the neighborhood. He confirmed that he was in the area where the sighting took place at the time of the 911 call. Police are confident that he is the individual they were seeking and that there is no danger to the community. Schools will no longer be on lockdown this morning.

Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts notes, “While it was a false alarm this time, we still appreciate the call. It’s important for people to call us and report activity that could affect public safety.” Chief Roberts also reflected that the event allowed the Olympia Police Department to work closely with several neighboring agencies, coordinating response to a possibly grave situation effectively and efficiently. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington State Patrol, Thurston Communications, the Lewis County K9 team, and Intercity Transit all assisted the investigation.

During the incident, Roosevelt Elementary School and Reeves Middle School were both put on lockdown before classes began, making for a delayed 10:25 a.m. start for students.

Bus routes also were delayed, and buses with students already on board were taken to the Olympia Regional Learning Academy, formerly known as Rogers Elementary School.

All three schools remained on a modified lockdown after the search was called off, Wohl said.

“We are letting kids come to school, but we are leaving them inside the school and stationing police officers at each of the schools, just as a precaution,” Wohl said.

Mathias Eichler was glad he opted to keep his ill 8-year-old son, a Roosevelt Elementary student, home from school today.

“We were lucky because we didn’t send him to school,” Eichler said. “We got the call through the automated school district notice saying the school was locked down.”

Eichler said he took to the road and notified other parents waiting with their children at bus stops who had not heard the news.

This is the first lockdown the Eichler family has experienced.

“Obviously there is a bigger conversation,” Eichler said. “I don’t know how much we deal with these kinds of things; the cost of taxpayer money, the worry, the disruption is always a question.

“Does it have to go that far?”

Staff writer Jeremy Pawloski contributed to this report. Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476

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