Gun rumor shakes Shepard

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

A rumor of a gun being on campus resulted in a lockdown at Shepard High School in Palos Heights for most of Monday afternoon.

After the students were released about 3 p.m., school officials said a BB gun had been turned over to authorities, but it was unclear whether the weapon was ever inside the school. Two students were being questioned by Cook County Sheriff’s Police, who conducted a search of the school.

All after-school activities, including sports practices and games, were canceled on Monday. Officials said Cook County police would do “a thorough search of the building with the help of the Cook County Canine Unit to ensure the building is safe for school tomorrow.”

Dozens of concerned parents congregated outside the school at 13049 S. Ridgeland Ave. during the lockdown, which lasted from 12:30 until 3 p.m. During that time, students and teachers stayed behind closed doors in classrooms, the cafeteria or whatever part of the school they were in while, while Cook County Sheriff’s Police worked with the administration to investigate the incident.

With the most recent mass shooting in which nine people and the gunman were killed last Thursday at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., on their minds, many of the parents waiting anxiously for news outside were texting with their sons and daughters inside.

Some of the students shared a photo with their parents of a student allegedly carrying a gun on school bus, but the photo seen on one smart phone was dark and unclear.

“This is the second incident in a week,” said David Edwards, of Alsip. He and other parents, including Margaret Wojtas, of Palos Heights, and Angel Hill of Crestwood, referred to a similar rumor passed around on social media about someone bringing a gun to school caused them to keep their children home for a day about a week ago.

“Like this, (the earlier incident) was a rumor. Some girl said something about a gun but nothing came of it. People were understandably afraid. We take every rumor and every bit of gossip seriously,” said Bob McPartland, a spokesman for School District 218.

The last statement issued by the administration after the lockdown, stated that “The investigation for a possible weapon has been completed. A BB gun has been turned over to authorities. The investigation has confirmed that a BB gun was brought on a school bus by a student and eventually given to another student who took the BB gun home earlier this morning.”

Officials said in the statement that “we cannot confirm at this time if the BB gun was in the school but we can confirm that the Cook County police are in possession of the BB gun and continue to question the students involved.’

“School safety is always our primary concern and we will always take any precaution to ensure student and staff well-being.

Elsewhere on Monday, a bomb threat that was received about 6 p.m. at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn caused evening classes at that school to be canceled.

       Even before the incidents on Monday, the mass shooting in Oregon was also on the minds of administrators of local colleges this week, but they all expressed confidence in their security systems already in place.

“Our hearts go out to all of those involved,” said Karla Thomas, executive director of media relations for St. Xavier University, a school with 4,700 students at 3700 W. 103rd St., in Chicago. “We always try to be prepared. We have campus police who work with the Chicago police,” she noted.

“Whenever anything like this happens (we take note) but we’ve got every T crosses and I dotted,” said Mark Horstmeyer, director of college relations in Palos Hills. He said that school, at 9000 W. College Parkway in Palos Hills, has 17,000 students and its own police force.