No injuries were reported after multiple shots were reportedly fired near the Washington Middle School campus on Martin Luther King Boulevard on Friday afternoon, causing a brief lockdown of the school.
The incident involved two males, according to a witness statement from the El Dorado Police Department.
In an online statement, El Dorado School District Superintendent Jim Tucker wrote, “At approximately 1:40 p.m. Friday, it was reported that shots were fired near the campus of Washington Middle School.”
The shots weren’t fired on Washington Middle School property. School administrators “went into full lockdown and called the police as we were trained to do,” WMS Principal Jody Vines said in a Facebook live video.
“We did this in order to do everything we can to protect your child,” she said.
The El Dorado Police Department, Union County Sheriff’s Office and Arkansas State Police responded quickly to the call.
A witness told police that two males were involved in the shooting, which occurred just north of school grounds in a clearing between the fence that surrounds the campus and the wood line on the north side of the school.
“It was in the immediate area of the school, but it was not on school property. It was not inside the fence and it was not directed toward the school or toward anyone at the school,” said EPD Chief Billy White.
With assistance from the county and state police, EPD officers entered WMS buildings and performed a search, giving the all-clear at approximately 2:20 p.m.
Police also set up a perimeter around the area where the shooting reportedly took place and enlisted the help of a Lion Oil/Delek pipeline survey plane to conduct an aerial search of the wooded area.
“We wanted to see if they could locate anyone moving through the woods, but the suspects have not been located as of yet,” White said.
During the campus lockdown, Tucker tweeted, “Police are checking the perimeter of the property. All students are ok and accounted for but the school is on lockdown. All students are fine and we will remain on lockdown until police give the all clear.”
Once the “all clear” was declared, students were released in small groups to prevent “mass chaos,” Vines said. According to a Facebook post from the EPD, buses did run their regular routes Friday.
“Community members, parents and guardians were understanding and worked with the staff on the release of students,” Tucker said in an online statement. “We understand that parents want information as quickly as possible in these situations. However, we want to make sure the information given is as accurate as possible and we appreciate your patience.”
Local law enforcement was “trying to apprehend two suspects,” EPD Sgt. Chris Lutman said on the scene.
While this wasn’t an active shooter situation, parents, some in tears, waited anxiously outside the campus until they were informed by school officials that all of the students were okay.
“I want to say thank you to all the staff, law enforcement and community members that helped with the situation. Each group did a great job,” Tucker said.
Likewise, White commended the actions of the El Dorado School District.
“School personnel took accountability for all students and looking out for student safety. They followed their protocol and everything went well,” White said.
He and Capt. Kevin Holt, public information officer for the EPD, said the majority of officers were released from the scene at approximately 3:45 p.m. after assisting with children loading buses and parent-pickups.
The suspects were described as two black males, one wearing a white T-shirt and the other, a black T-shirt. The witness said the incident occurred on the northwest edge of the wooded area, close to MLK.
The witness said one of the males was firing at the other, and they fled the scene on foot, heading north toward East Main. It was unclear which of the males was the shooter.
On Wednesday, a former student armed with an AR-15 shot on the grounds and into five classrooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people died following the shooting, according to The Associated Press.
Since the deadly school shooting in southwest Florida, at least seven other school districts in Arkansas have reported threats from students. The nearest schools were in Gurdon and Star City, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that students in Fayetteville, Hackett, Berryville, Timbo and North Little Rock were arrested after threats were posted online or heard by fellow students.
The El Dorado School District’s student discipline handbook suggests that schools conduct fire drills “at least monthly” and tornado drills “no fewer than four times per year with at least one in the months of September, October, January and February.” No active shooter drill was included in the handbook.
“Unfortunately, because of recent events in our country we must be and will continue to be cautious when it comes to the safety of our students and staff,” the superintendent said. “The El Dorado School District loves our students and takes their safety seriously and that was shown by the staff today.”
Schools will dismiss at 1:30 p.m. Monday and parent/teacher conferences will start at 3:15 p.m., according to the district’s website.
Brittany Williams may be reached at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook @BWilliamsEDNT for updates on Union County school news.
Tia Lyons may be reached at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.