Stony Creek Elementary evacuation: Man's backpack, off-center ceiling tile lead to 911 call

Update: The evacuation of Stony Creek Elementary yesterday hot on the heels of a bomb threat at nearby Southwest Plaza mall on the twelfth anniversary of the Columbine shootings rattled plenty of nerves among residents and locked-down students at area schools -- yet the Jeffco Sheriff's office determined nothing criminal took place. So what happened?

Jefferson County School District spokeswoman Lynn Setzer has the details.

"According to the principal, a man walked into the school and seemed to be in a hurry," she says. "Now, the way Stony Creek is laid out, the office is on the left-hand side. It doesn't have what we call a secure entrance, as we're now building into many of our schools -- and it would cost many millions of dollars to change. So he walked right past the office, not signing in. And he had a backpack with him.

"At that moment, the principal's secretary happened to be coming up the hall. So he only got a few yards past the office when he was stopped and questioned by the secretary. At that point, he said, in a heavy Russian accent, that he had to use the bathroom. The secretary said something to the effect that you have to come back to the office. Within the office area, there's a clinic that has a bathroom -- and they felt it was okay for him to use the restroom there, because he would be under their surveillance."

The man was in the bathroom for what office staff felt was an inordinately long time, "and when he left, the secretary didn't remember seeing the backpack," Setzer continues. "So she checked the bathroom, and there was one ceiling tile that looked as if it had been messed with a little bit. That made her suspicious, so she talked to the principal, who called security and asked, 'What do we do?' And they said, 'Call 911.'"

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The principal did so, then ordered Stony Creek students evacuated to nearby Deer Creek Middle School, where a terrifying shooting incident that injured two students had taken place the year before. The bomb squad then checked the ceiling and determined that there was no reason for concern. Meanwhile, sheriff's office personnel located the man on foot not far from the school -- and he had the backpack with him. After determining that he hadn't done anything wrong, they let him go. The all-clear came shortly thereafter, about an hour after he first entered the school.

Did the "suspicious device" found at Southwest Plaza and memories of the Deer Creek shooting play a role in the staff's approach to the situation? Setzer says she can't speak for the employees, "but my thought is that it probably would have been handled the way it was anyway, because we take so seriously our job of keeping kids safe and questioning things that don't seem right. It's a delicate balance between wanting our schools to be the kind of place where people, and especially parents, feel welcomed, but trying to have enough security measures in place to make sure our kids are safe." She adds, however, that the incident will be studied to see if anything should have been done differently -- a routine procedure in matters like this one.

Look below to see our previous coverage.

Original item, 1:43 April 21: In our earlier post about the devices found yesterday at Southwest Plaza mall, I mentioned that Chatfield High School, which my twin daughters attend, was locked down during the incident. Moments ago, one of my daughters phoned to say Chatfield was just put on lockdown again -- but it's not due to the mall. Instead, it pertains to a man who caused an evacuation at Stony Creek Elementary.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley says a man entered Stony Creek in a manner that caused concern -- enough that the school was evacuated, with students sent to Deer Creek Middle School across the street. No one was hurt or injured, according to Kelley, and we're now hearing the man has been taken into custody.

As you'll recall, Deer Creek was the site of a shooting last year at which two students were wounded -- and more might have been hurt if it weren't for the actions of a quick-thinking teacher, Dr. David Benke. Last May, Bruco Eastwood was charged with fifteen counts, including attempted first-degree murder, related to the shooting.

Fortunately, nothing like that happened this time around -- but the actions of the thus-far-unidentified man at Stony Creek are likely to increase tensions in a community already rattled by memories of the attack on nearby Columbine High School, which took place twelve years ago yesterday.

More from our Media archive: "Columbine and the struggle for perspective ten years later."

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