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Parents, officials dispute lockdown — Brookhaven school officials say ‘nothing happened’

Parents say their children witnessed locked classrooms and bag searches at Alexander Junior High School Thursday as teachers responded to a threat on campus, but Brookhaven school officials say no lockdowns occurred and reports of trouble are just rumors.

Several parents said they rushed to the school around noon to check their children out after receiving urgent text messages from their seventh- and eighth-graders describing tight security measures and random searches of backpacks and cell phones. Parents also said they received mixed signals from school officials who told them nothing was happening but the school was secure, and all are angry the Brookhaven School District made no attempt to contact them or clarify the day’s events.

“Even if it’s just a student running his mouth and causing a scare, something needs to be done about it,” said Jay Howell, who has two kids attending AJHS. “It doesn’t need to be just brushed under the table, because that’s when things do happen, because you get complacent every time.”

Howell said his daughter messaged around 1:30 p.m. asking to be checked out of school after being held in a locked classroom following reports of a gun in a student’s locker that spread through the student body. The child said her teacher phoned the school office from the classroom, had a lengthy conversation then locked the classroom door and told students “you’ll be alright.”

Howell said the school did not appear be on lockdown when he entered to check out his daughter, but said there was more activity than normal in the hallway and a school official was telling arriving parents “nothing is going on, everything is fine.”

Leanne Case, whose daughter is a seventh-grader at AJHS, said her daughter’s friend called her around 12:40 p.m. to say her daughter wanted to be checked out but was too upset to make the call. Case said her child was in PE when teachers sent all the boys to the boys’ locker room and all the girls to the girls’ locker room then locked the gymnasium doors.

“When they were finally allowed to come out, they went to lunch,” she said. “That’s when (my daughter) was told a kid had a gun on campus.”

While Case’s daughter reported being held in lockdown, she said other friends at school told her daughter they experienced no extra security. Case also said one official in the school office told her there was never a lockdown while another told her the school was secure.

“Apparently some teachers thought they were on lockdown,” she said. “Obviously, some teachers got the message and some didn’t. If it was nothing, if it was a kid that lied about something and they didn’t find anything, they school still needs to let us know about it so we can tell our kids so they won’t be scared.”

Casey Martin said she arrived at AJHS around noon to check out her children and saw no evidence of extra security measures, as students were coming and going freely in the hallways. She said her daughter came from the lunchroom happy and carefree, while her son emerged from the band hall “scared to death.”

While Case’s daughter was unaware of any commotion at school, she said her son witnessed teachers searching students’ backpacks.

“Why are they not on lockdown? Why are there not police there?” Martin said. “A lady at the office told me everything was secure, nothing is going on, everything is fine. I said, ‘No, it’s not. Parents’ phones are blowing up’.”

Martin said she was angry no attempt was made to contact parents.

“I don’t feel like it was taken seriously,” she said. “Even though it’s 12- and 13-year-olds, it still needed to be taken seriously in today’s world.”

Jessica Dykes said her daughter witnessed a teacher searching students’ backpacks randomly, selecting a handful of students at a time but not entire classes. She said her daughter also witnessed a teacher searching students’ cellphones, apparently looking for a group message. Dykes’ daughter was not searched.

Dykes also claims her daughter was scolded for using her cellphone to call her mother.

“My daughter explained, ‘I’m letting my momma know.’ The teacher said it’s not true, if it were true you would be on lockdown,” she said. “And my daughter got in trouble and was told to put her phone up.”

Dykes said she saw no extra security evident when she arrived to check out her daughter. She is also angry that school officials did not reach out to parents to clarify Thursday’s events.

“I am on the call list. I get calls up to 9 o’clock at night telling me report cards are going out, Easter holidays are coming up, little messages like that. But they can’t do a call to let parents know everything is OK?” Dykes said. “They dropped the ball on this, seriously. I did not feel like my daughter was in good hands.”

AJHS Principal Patrick Hardy said Thursday was “just a normal day of school.” He answered “no sir” to every question about lockdowns, searches or a possible gun on campus and had no answer as to why parents were claiming otherwise.

“Nothing happening today,” Hardy said.

Kelly Brown, who has children in seventh- and eighth-grade at AJHS, said the situation should have been treated as if it were a real threat whether it was or not.

“This isn’t something to play with,” she said. “They did not handle it appropriately. They did not send out alerts, they did not tell us anything.”

Nancy Brown, whose child is in the eighth grade at AJHS, said the situation reminded her of a real school shooting at AJHS in the mid-1990s when she attended there.

“All my feelings from back then, that’s what I felt (today),” she said. “I feel like something should have been sent out to parents to say there is a situation or there isn’t, and it’s handled. But, nothing.”

Keonia Searcy said she went to AJHS to check her son out of school and found no lockdown, with students moving around freely. She was told “everything was OK,” but she took that message with skepticism.

“They were telling us everything was alright, but how can (they) check that amount of kids in that short a time,” she said. “I feel like they should have been calling parents and telling them what was going on.”

Sabrina Richardson, who heard about the ordeal in a text message from her daughter around 11:30 a.m., said such incidents shouldn’t be concealed or glossed over in modern times.

“Even though we’re in a small town, we just can’t do that anymore,” she said.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Ray Carlock said there was no lockdown at AJHS Thursday and referred to rumors of a fight Wednesday. He did not respond to multiple follow-up calls and text messages seeking further comment.

Brookhaven Police Chief Kenny Collins could not be reached for comment.