Students at H.D. Stafford Middle School were set to go home when the bell would normally ring at 2:49 p.m. but the school was on lockdown Tuesday afternoon after disturbing information was posted on social media.
A teen was threatening to harm himself.
“We have a hold and secure,” said Langley School District communications manager Ken Hoff. The lockdown started at about 2:40 p.m.
The students and staff were secure in the school as the RCMP handled an incident but nothing happened within the school, he explained.
The school tweeted out during the afternoon that “HD stafford is currently in lockdown. All students are safe and accounted for. We will update shortly.”
Langley RCMP Sgt. Alexandra Mulvihill told the Langley Advance just before 3:30 p.m. that the students were being released from the school in an orderly fashion. The school was emptied by about 4:30 p.m.
The incident started before lunchtime.
“The Langley RCMP received a report of a teenage boy who was sending messages via social media that he may harm himself,” she explained
The police investigation led them to the middle school.
“They were just on social media,” she said of the threats. “No specific students were identified. It was just a generalized threat.”
The school was immediately locked down and a search commenced of the school and school property for the male suspect. The male suspect is not a student of H.D. Stafford Middle School, and he was not located.
“In order to ensure the safety of all the students the school remained on lockdown and students were released in an orderly fashion with heavy police presence,” she added.
Police will continue to investigate in hopes of finding the young person who threatened to harm himself.
“Currently, the investigation continues and is still active to locate the male suspect,” Mulvihill said.” There will be no names released as the male suspect is a young offender.”
One mother is recommending changes to her school’s emergency protocols following Tuesday’s lockdown at Stafford.
Linda-Jean Shaw isn’t critical of how police and school administrators dealt with the emergency, saying she’s just grateful they took action to ensure every student in the school made it out safely after an hour of uncertainty and fear.
But she recommends that the school district learn from the “great system” used to care for residents of the Paddington Station apartment fire last December.
After an hour of being locked down and told very little, she said her 13-year-old son – and others in the basement for drama class – were approached by two uniformed officers and a few other adults. They were given a very clear directive to leave the school immediately, in an orderly fashion, and told to go directly home.
That meant not stopping at their locker, the bathroom, or the office.
The only issue with that, she noted, was that her son didn’t have his cellphone, his house keys, nor his jacket. She suspects that was the case for many of the Stafford students, who are typically between the ages of 11 and 14.
Instead of releasing these “freaked” children from school and sending them off to fend for themselves in a situation like this, she recommended buses be pulled up to the school and that kids be transported to an “evacuation centre,” like the Timms Community Centre, where they can remain safe and warm until parents can arrange to pick them up.
“Not everyone has a parent at home to let them in after school,” Shaw said.
She’s convinced such problems could be avoided by following an evacuation protocol that parents are alerted to at the beginning of the school year.
“We have an absolutely awesome community,” Shaw said, reiterating that much can be learned from the way Langley City dealt with the Paddington emergency.
“We’re usually powerless in situations like this, and I’m so grateful everyone is safe. But I feel setting a plan like this in place would give us more power about how we react to these incidents,” Shaw said.
“Let’s make a bad thing into a good thing.”
After presstime, the district provided feedback.
Hoff said the district reviews every situation to learn from it.
“In this case there were a number of factors that made it exspecially challenging, such as how close to dismissal time the events unfolded and the rapidly changing information that was available,” he said.
The district defers to the safety expertise of the RCMP who suggested class-by-class dismissal, he said.
“The important take-away here is that the students and staff of HDSMS are safe,” Hoff told the Advance.
Here’s the letter issued by the school:
Dear Parents/Guardians of H.D. Stafford Middle School
At approximately 2:20 p.m., HDSMS was placed in a Lockdown under the advisement of the RCMP due to a generalized threatening message.
At appoximately 2:50 p.m. the Lockdown was downgraded to Hold and Secure. A Hold and Secure is used if there is a security concern in the neighbourhood and involves everyone remaining inside the school as exterior doors are secured. Access to the school is restricted as no one may enter or exit the school.
The neighbourhood situation did not directly involve students or staff of HDSMS but out of caution, the area was secured by the RCMP. As this incident occurred shortly before dismissal time, students were detained until the RCMP assessed the situation. At about 3:35 p.m. students were released on a class by class basis, under controlled conditions, while a significant RCMP presence remained in the community.
At no time was there any danger to the students and staff and their cooperation is appreciated.