After phone calls from administration and a nearly hour-long complete school lockdown, the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office found a hidden illegal weapon, a sawed-off shotgun, on Port Allen High School’s campus Friday afternoon.
On February 1, Port Allen administration called on School Resource Officer Sgt. Chris Conaway of the WBRSO after several students reported seeing a fellow student with a gun on school grounds.
“The bad news is that we had a sawed-off shotgun on campus,” said WBR School Superintendent David Corona. “The good news is that a couple of students who obviously take great pride in their school tipped off the administration as to the whereabouts and everything else regarding the incident.”
Conaway agreed, saying the students who tipped off administration to the fact there was a weapon on campus were the catalysts to bringing safety to the school so quickly.
“Several students saw the kid walking during the lunch period. And they observed him walking kind of funny,” Sgt. Conaway said in an interview Monday afternoon. “When they watched, they looked at him closely – they reported to administration that he appeared to have an assault rifle down his pants leg.”
Conaway said that the student, who will remain unnamed because he is a juvenile, brought the weapon on the school’s campus to sell to another student for $40.
According to Conaway, when the original buyer opted out of the sale, another student made a deal to trade two ounces of marijuana for the gun.
“You have another juvenile kid who can get access to marijuana that fast to swap it for a sawed-off shotgun,” he said. “We have some serious issues going on in West Baton Rouge Parish.”
Conaway said that when he initially heard that a weapon had been spotted on the school’s campus, he called for a “hard lockdown” at the school, “where nobody can leave or come in,” he said.
Once officials arrived at the school grounds, they talked to the student, a 16-year-old, who had allegedly brought the gun.
“First he denied it,” Conaway said adding that after the denial police reviewed video from school grounds. “Some detectives had talked to him and he agreed to show them where he hid the gun. He had hidden it in the upstairs lobby of the gym in a garbage can.”
According to Conaway, the ordeal lasted about 45-minutes from the time school administration was informed of the threat until the weapon was found.
Corona said the school administration’s actions, and the sheriff’s office’s quick response, caused situation to be composed before it got out of hand.
“The administration was able to move quickly and swiftly and the people responsible for that shotgun being on campus were hauled off to jail quickly,” he said.
Conaway said that he was pleased with the officials’ response.
“Overall, in general, that was executed perfectly. I think it was just a well-oiled machine on that particular time; it went like it was supposed to,” Conaway said. “We had a threat, we found the threat, we got rid of it.”
Conaway said that though the threat was cancelled without a hitch, several parents of students were frustrated at the lack of knowledge they had during the incident.
“I know that there were some parents that were left frustrated and aggravated because they weren’t told (what was happening). But we didn’t find out the truth until after school was over,” he said.
Conaway said that once students realized there was a school lockdown after talks of a possible weapon on campus, they began informing each other and parents through text messages.
He said that parents were getting angry that they couldn’t enter the school premises and that their students couldn’t leave during the lockdown.
“They’re getting aggravated because the vehicle won’t let them in the building, and we couldn’t let their kids leave the building until we found what we were looking for,” Conaway said. “It’s something that (parents) are going to have to understand, in a situation like that, stay where you are.
“Don’t come here and create more havoc… We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to make sure everybody gets out of there the same way they came.”
The student who brought and hid the weapon on school grounds, according to Conaway, had been in classes at Port Allen High School for a total of about a week before the incident.
After moving from Florida last year, the student had to wait to enroll in Port Allen High School due to the close proximity of the end of the school year.
The student has a criminal history, and was on probation at the time of the incident for his part in a Daniel’s Pharmacy robbery over the summer.
Conaway said that there is a chance the student will get sentenced for his crime as an adult, as he will turn 17-years-old in less than two weeks, the age in Louisiana that a person can be tried as an adult.
“The (District Attorney’s) office can petition the court… and try him as an adult,” he said.
He said that other options for the student include releasing him into state care, releasing him to his mother, or making him serve the remainder of his sentence for the burglary charge for violation of probation until he goes to court for the gun charge.
The incident occurred amidst a time where the school board is hosting an ongoing conversation about school safety and what measures to take if guns or active shooters are reported to be on a school campus.
And though Friday’s incident ended innocuously, some feel like a student with such a long-standing criminal history should not be allowed in the schools in the first place.
“How is a kid like that allowed into your school system when no other school system is going to take him?” Conaway asked rhetorically. “That’s some things that we need to work out with the school system. They had the meeting on trying to make it safe, well let’s make it safe on the back end as well. If we don’t allow that to come on in through the front door, then our (students) are safe.”