By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
Reports of a man walking down the street with a gun in his hand caused school lockdowns and street blockades Wednesday afternoon.
Exactly who the man was and where he went is a question that may be answered later, but the schools and streets were declared safe after about a two-hour search.
The incident began shortly after 1 p.m. when a bus driver for the Redwood Coast Transit District reported a man, apparently carrying a gun, walking near Hamilton and Glenn streets . He was described as a white male, around 6-feet tall, with dark hair and wearing a blue shirt and jeans. His back was to the bus driver, so no age was given.
Crescent City Police cruisers and Del Norte County Sheriffs department utility vehicles circled blocks in the vicinity for some time looking for anyone suspicious. Because of the proximity to several schools, extra precautions were taken.
This is a lockdown. That means to secure the building, said Principal Dennis Burns of Del Norte High School. With these sorts of things, its too real today to even take a chance.
Lockdowns took place at all schools in the Del Norte County school system, according to Captain Doug Plack of the Del Norte County Sheriffs Department.
While cruisers continued to encircle the area, school officials and police officers secured doorways and began a room-by-room search at the high school.
We have drills between the police, the Sheriffs Department and the schools for this type of situation. Thats what we plan for, said Sheriff Jim Maready.
One student who matched the description was searched in the corridor. His locker was also searched and he was isolated from other students as a precaution.
In each classroom, any student matching the description was asked by officers to stand and expose their waistbands. It seems to have given the girls a thrill, said Del Norte County Deputy Sheriff Frank Villarreal, as some girls giggled inside the classrooms.
But the situation was nonetheless serious. Its because we dont have an age that he could be in any of these rooms, said Villarreal.
A false alarm sounded during the search which sent officers racing down the street. A second report was received of a man near the Harding and El Dorado intersection who was supposed to be carrying a gun. Maready said this turned out to be an individual with a radio on his hip who was clearing brush in the area.
By 3 p.m. the schools were given a green light for worried parents to begin picking up their children.
This is what we train for and obviously its paying off, said George Mina, Operations Division Commander of the Del Norte Sheriffs Department, as he stood outside Del Norte High School after a thorough search.
Only one concern arose during the search when it was discovered the College Of The Redwoods did not have a lockdown procedure in place.
That will certainly be open for negotiations at the next administrative hearing, said Plack. Those areas need to be addressed because it doesnt matter how old a student is, theyre still students.
If nothing else, officials noted that yesterdays event was a healthy exercise.
The first individual may or may not have had a firearm. We just dont know right now, said Maready. The bus driver reported what he thought was a suspicious character - and he did whats right. We wouldnt want to discourage people from making this type of report.