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Law enforcement offers advice for school lockdown situations

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No parent wants to learn her child is in danger, especially when that child is in what should be the safe confines of a school.

But that was a situation parents in the Upper Kanawha Valley found themselves in when Cedar Grove Community School was placed on lockdown Dec. 4 after reports of an adult threatening violence forced officials to lock down the school.

According to WOWK-TV, a family member of Christy Jarrell, 29, called the school and told officials Jarrell was on her way to the school with a gun. Although the school was placed on lockdown for a couple of hours, police told WOWK they don't believe Jarrell intended to harm anyone. They maintain children were safe throughout the ordeal and Jarrell never entered the school.

Word of the lockdown spread quickly on social media and through news outlets, prompting some parents to go to Cedar Grove Community and check their children out for the day after the lockdown was lifted. But according to Capt. Sean Crosier with the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department, the last thing parents should do in this sort of situation is go to the school.

"They should absolutely avoid going to the school," Crosier said. "The influx of parents going to the school is going to make law enforcement response much more difficult. Number 1, we would have trouble being able to identify who our suspect is. Trying to pick one person possibly with no description out of many people is practically impossible."

Not only that, but once a school is on lockdown, no one can enter or leave.

Parents were notified of the lockdown when it was put in place. However, Crosier said he'd like to see a more comprehensive notification system that could help ease parents' worries.

"One of the best policies I believe is if the school system would notify parents with regular updates, via the phone lines, that would be very helpful," he said. "Also a website that parents could access that would have information on the event at the school and thirdly another option would be a phone number parents could call. They could accept hundreds of calls possibly simultaneously."

Crosier pointed out that phone systems in the schools aren't equipped to handle the number of calls that come in during an emergency. He asked that parents resist the urge to call the school.

"A phone call to the school will probably go unanswered," Crosier said. "If police officers are calling back to get more information for our response, we need those phone lines open."

However, there are ways parents can help law enforcement in their investigation without being a hindrance. Crosier said parents who live or work in the area can help by opening their eyes and ears and alerting law enforcement to possible clues.

"If they could keep their eyes and ears open and call 911 with information regarding a description, direction of travel, description of vehicles, if the person is carrying a weapon, are they hearing gunshots, anything like that," Crosier said.

Although the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department has its own set of procedures to follow in emergencies, police response can vary from agency to agency and location to location.

"As law enforcement, nationwide we actually have a very similar response protocol now and that has changed greatly since Columbine," Crosier said.

A parent himself, Crosier said he knows the panic many parents feel when their children are in danger. But, he said, it's important to be cognizant of the work law enforcement officials must do to control the situation and keep everyone safe.

"Being a parent and law enforcement officer, I understand their concern," he said. "I would be extremely concerned. But I would be in a better place to go and respond to the school. I know of course how difficult it is for a parent to stand by not knowing the condition of their child."

The Kanawha County Sheriff's Department did not respond to the situation in Cedar Grove.