Lockdown at Chatfield High School Receives Minimal Coverage

I forgot my cell phone yesterday, which doesn't seem like that big of a deal; I've only recently started carrying one, owing to my unreasonable, Luddite-like hatred of the damned things. But the timing of my oversight in this case proved to be especially poor. Around midday, my wife, who's at a conference in San Diego, began receiving texts from our twin daughters, Lora and Ellie, who are freshmen at Chatfield High School, informing her that the facility had been locked down because of a suspicious vehicle sighting. Ellie revealed that there were cops everywhere, adding, "This is for real."

Upon learning about this situation from my wife, I began calling the school. A couple of dozen busy signals later, I finally got through to a receptionist, who informed me that the lockdown had just ended, and students were coming and going as per normal. Shortly thereafter, I reached both daughters, and Ellie informed me that a fellow student related to someone in law enforcement had learned during the lockdown that a student had been found in the building with a gun. Varying degrees of terror ensued, only ebbing after the aforementioned student learned that the weapon in question was an Airsoft gun, not something considerably more lethal. Yet the level of police activity alone, coupled with Chatfield's large size, convinced both Lora and Ellie that TV stations would be all over the story. So, at 5 p.m., we turned on the tube and surfed back and forth between channels 4, 7 and 9. And what did we see about Chatfield? Nada.

Welcome to the brave new world of post-Virginia Tech media.

In the beginning, the only official information I had about the lockdown was a letter sent home to parents under the signature of Chatfield principal Keith Mead. Here's the text:

November 7, 2007

Dear Parents,

I want to make you aware of an incident that happened at the school today. Chatfield was on lockdown for approximately an hour while the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office investigated a report of someone with a gun in the parking lot.

According to law enforcement, two suspects were taken into custody after a witness saw one of the men with what appeared to be a hand gun. We decided to put the school on lockdown to ensure the safety of our students while sheriff's deputies investigated. Thankfully, there were no injuries as a result of the incident today.

The safety of your children is my most important priority and with that in mind, we will always err on the side of caution by locking down the school...


Keith Mead, Principal

I then turned to the Internet and discovered one additional factoid, courtesy of Channel 9's website -- and the following morning's Rocky Mountain News contained an item as well. According to a composite of these reports, two individuals were taken into custody as a result of the incident -- a 17-year-old Chatfield student and a second individual believed to be an adult beyond high-school age.

At first blush, the matter seems newsworthy, in part because Chatfield is the high school closest to Columbine. Note that Columbine students finished out the 1998-1999 academic year at Chatfield after their school was closed in the wake of the April 1999 massacre. But since the Columbine shootings, threatening incidents at schools have become so commonplace that only the ones resulting in actual violence or featuring special circumstances, such as an organized conspiracy, get camera crews hopping. Indeed, on the same day as the Chatfield lockdown, three students in Louisville, Kentucky were arrested for taking pellet guns onto their high-school campus. Kentucky media covered the situation extensively, in part because of reports that one of the young men involved allegedly threatened another student with a gun. In contrast, a Jeffco public schools spokeswoman told the Rocky there was no indication the Chatfield student with the Airsoft gun had pointed it at anyone.

Even so, I identified with my daughters as they watched the 5 p.m. Denver 'casts, which spent between five and ten minutes reporting stories that resembled actual news before rolling into canned pieces and other softer stuff. We felt the same way this morning when we saw a Chatfield story on Channel 4 -- but instead of focusing on yesterday's drama, the piece announced that a high school playoff matchup against Mullen would take place as scheduled even though half of Chatfield's team suffered food poisoning last weekend (the graphic read "Game On!"). "I guess the game is more important than someone bringing a gun to school," Ellie said.

In the eyes of local TV news directors, that appears to be the case. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts