Suspicion of Individual With Weapon Triggers Code Orange At Matanzas High School
FlaglerLive | March 9, 2016
Last Updated: 4:44 p.m.
Matanzas High School went on Code Orange security status shortly after 1 p.m. today, restricting students indoors and in their classrooms, after a school official suspected that a student may have been seen with a weapon. The emergency was lifted at 3 p.m., and no weapon was found.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office responded with 25 deputies, with the incident focused on Building 6 at the north end of the school, and more particularly in a boys’ bathroom in that building. The Florida Highway Patrol sent more than a dozen troopers, many of whom had been in the region on special enforcement assignments unrelated to the Matanzas emergency, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has its own police force, sent half a dozen officers.
“We had a force of probably close to 40 or maybe a little more than 40 on scene,” Jim Troiano, the sheriff’s chief spokesman, said in a wrap-up of the incident at 4:30 p.m. The reason for the large response: “Earlier information prompted us to believe that the individual may be on campus.”
That turned out not to be the case. While a suspect was not identified by name, the sheriff’s office is now looking for a man, or a boy, believed to be a student at the school, who is 6 feet tall, with long, straight blond hair, and who was wearing a brown hoodie at the time of the incident.
The way the incident unfolded was this: A student was in a bathroom, that student saw the student with what he believed to be a handgun. The student contacted a member of the faculty–a dean–who contacted administration, which contacted the sheriff’s office, initiating the response.
“So far what we’re hearing, it sounds very legitimate, we have no indication that this young person is making anything up,” Troiano said of the student who alerted officials.
Two sheriff’s deputies were at the school on an unrelated matter (including the school’s School Resource Deputy).
“They immediately went into action, and we then dispatched other units,” Troiano said.
Code Orange was declared. Nobody was allowed to leave the campus until a proper search was conducted. The common areas were searched, so were several bathrooms and several classrooms, Troiano said. Scores of parents began waiting outside the school to pick up their children. Rumors flew. Parents got upset, some of them crying and believing, inaccurately, that there had been a shooting and that people were hurt. Troiano at one point held successive group meetings with parents outside the school to calm matters and provide the more accurate information. “I have a daughter that goes to that school, it’s trying as a parent and I absolutely feel for those parents that were out there,” he said. Sheriff Jim Manfre also arrived at the scene and spoke with parents.
“There is no threat that we know of at this time,” he said to media, and to parents. There’s been no violence, and “no threat that has occurred.”
Students were cleared for dismissal just before 3 p.m., according to a school release, but Troiano subsequently said buses only were cleared for release, but not car riders yet. He said some 200 cars were at the school, waiting to pick up students (at 3:15 p.m.), as were numerous units of the Florida Highway Patrol, the sheriff’s office, and even the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has its own policing force.
Once cleared for release, students were escorted to their buses by armed law enforcement, most of them with long guns or shotguns. Even students who rode bicycles were escorted to their bikes, as were students in the car rider line, who were escorted from classrooms to vehicles. That was done to minimize the number of students wandering around the school, and to ensure their safety.
Code Orange is one security level short of the more serious Code Red. Code Orange, according to the district’s definition, means that there are no outdoor activities, no class changes, and the perimeter of the campus has to be secured.
Jason Wheeler, a spokesman for the school district, confirmed the Code Orange after 1:30 p.m. (The call to the dispatch center was issued at 1:08 p.m.) Shortly after 2 p.m., he issued a release that stated: “This afternoon a student at Matanzas High Schools reported they thought they saw the reflection of another student holding what appeared to be weapon in a restroom mirror. That student reported the incident to a school administrator and the campus’ security status was immediately placed on code ‘orange.'”
Superintendent Jacob Oliva, who was on his way to the school at 3 p.m., and Sheriff Jim Manfre, scheduled a 4 p.m. news conference at the school. “We’re just going to go over the facts of what happened today,” Oliva said in an interview soon after students had been dismissed. (A sheriff’s tweet at 3:23 p.m., however, said the news conference was cancelled, and that a media release would follow.)
The person or suspect involved in the incident was was not on campus at the time of dismissal, and no weapon was found at the school, nor has it been confirmed that a weapon was, in fact, on campus, Oliva said, but he said sheriff’s deputies are pursuing the case.
Oliva said a student was identified as a suspect, but Jim Troiano, the sheriff’s spokesperson, said “there is no identified student,” nor was he aware of deputies in the community seeking out an individual student. The student was identified as a person of interest at one point. Deputies went to the student’s house and were able to confirm that the students had not been on campus at the time of the incident. But the student allegedly involved in the incident is still being sought.
Oliva said this was a case of “follows along with the message we’ve given the students and with the sheriff’s office, if you see something, say something. This is a great example.”
“At this point there’s not been any determination that there was an actual weapon on campus. There’s been nothing to substantiate that,”
he said. Deputies “went through every classroom.”
Surveillance footage was reviewed by deputies, Troiano said.
As for the fate of the student, or suspected student, should that student be apprehended, that, too, is not certain, given the murkiness of the circumstances. “Any time we have discipline issues we look at it on a case by case basis, there is no one answer to any one incident, but weapons on campus will not be tolerated,” Oliva said.
After-school activities were allowed to resume when the all-clear signal went out, after the students had boarded their buses and their vehicles.
On Thursday, students at Matanzas will notice a stronger law enforcement presence, Troiano said. The investigation is continuing. It could have been a fake gun, it could have been a real gun, he said. “We can’t tell you today that it wasn’t a real gun. We’re treating it as a real gun.”
Officers from FHP, FCSO, FWC all came out to protect students at Matanzas High today. No gun was found. pic.twitter.com/iHAkLoOtgm
— FCSO (@FlaglerSheriff) March 9, 2016