Officials reassure students at PBL
PAXTON – The waning days of school in the Paxton-Buckley-Loda high school and junior high are being spent under heightened police security after a threat put the schools into a lockdown Tuesday afternoon.
Plainclothes officers – from Paxton, state police and the Ford County sheriff's office – staffed three stations outside the school this morning to check students' belongings before they entered.
Police checked bookbags and purses, and leafed through notebooks and books as students approached the school.
Police are not giving any details about the nature of the threat or how it was received, but Paxton Police Chief Robert Bane said when he left the high school Tuesday evening the building had been thoroughly searched and cleared.
"It's safe for students," Bane said. "And there will be an increased police presence."
Still, parent Ann Carpenter said this morning she was "a little uneasy. You didn't know what to expect."
School officials put the school in lockdown at about 1:50 p.m. Tuesday.
Marilee Watson said she was at work when her high school-age daughter called on her cell phone.
"She was whispering and she said, 'Mom, we're on code red. They've locked the (classroom) doors, and we're hiding in the corner.'"
Watson said she could tell her daughter, a sophomore, was scared.
"All I kept thinking about was Virginia Tech and Columbine and – oh my gosh, this isn't supposed to happen in Paxton," Watson said. "I got off the phone and I said to the people I work with that that was the worst phone call of my entire life. And I started bawling."
Watson's daughter also said some students were so upset they were crying.
Joel Cluver, a parent and the station manager and program director of WPXN radio, said the station received 25 to 30 phone calls Tuesday from worried parents.
"I think it was mostly parents calling, saying, 'Have you heard anything lately?'"
He admitted that as a parent, the concern was high. "When it happens locally – it gets your heart to stop for a while," Cluver said.
Bane said the parents can be reassured it's safe for their children throughout the week.
"We're doing everything we can to protect their children," Bane said. "We'll diligently work at finding the person or persons responsible for the threat. We will find them, and we will arrest them."
A choral concert at the high school scheduled for Tuesday evening was canceled, Bane said, in keeping with the lockdown procedures.
Though the threat was made against the high school, the junior high building was included in the lockdown because the two buildings are attached.
Superintendent Cliff McClure sent a letter home to all parents explaining that a potential threat against the students had been made. He said the Paxton police were called immediately, and the Illinois State Police, Gibson City Police and Ford County Sheriff's department also responded.
The note also mentioned that the Ford County Crimestoppers program is offering a $1,000 reward for information about the threat.
McClure and high school Principal John Rawdin were outside the school this morning, watching students come in, directing traffic, and greeting children getting on buses to other schools.
Students in the high school were dismissed little by little Tuesday, with the last ones being dismissed about 4:20 p.m., so that each student's belongings could be searched. Each person also passed through a metal detector.
The metal detector was in use again this morning, students passing single-file. They all were directed to the gymnasium until the start of classes.
"I think they handled it the right way," said Kelly Riblet of Paxton on Tuesday. "According to the letter they took action pretty quickly."
Riblet said she planned to send her son, a senior, and her 9-year-old daughter to school the remainder of the week.
"They assured us there will be a heavy police presence," Riblet said. "I think they're doing everything that they can to control the situation."
Anna Runge of Loda said when she went to the junior high to pick up her son after school Tuesday she felt like she was walking into the 6 o'clock news.
"The state police were there, the fire department was there, the emergency crew was there directing traffic," Runge said. "It was really scary. I didn't know what to expect."
She said her son felt scared by it all, and he said some of the other kids were also frightened.
"They also see the news and see what has happened before," Runge said. "And of course they had them all in their classrooms and all in one corner, staying together and it was kind of scary."
Runge said she has no complaints about how it was handled.
"I think they reacted well," Runge said. "I wasn't happy because this started at about 1:30 or so and I hadn't heard about it until about 3:30 – but am I complaining? No. My son's fine. Everything did work out."
News-Gazette correspondent James Shields contributed to this report.