A report of a possible gunman at Huguenot High School on Monday prompted a “Code Red” lockdown of the South Richmond school that had students sheltering in darkened classrooms, cowering under desks and hiding in closets.
Richmond police notified the school about 10:45 a.m. Monday that “a call came in that someone within Huguenot High School was being threatened by someone with a weapon,” according to a statement from Richmond Public Schools, which initiated the lockdown immediately.
Police found no weapon after searching the school and many of the students inside. Superintendent Jason Kamras said just after 2 p.m. that police gave the school district the all-clear and students were released 15 minutes later, about 30 minutes before their typical release at 2:45 p.m.
“I’ve been thinking I’m about to die,” said Kandice Wimbush, a Huguenot senior. Wimbush said there was no way to lock the door to the room where she hid with classmates, so they hid in a corner of the room for most of the day.
Her mother, Veronica Wimbush, said that when her daughter first texted her, she thought it was a drill. But as the day went on and the school remained locked down, she grew concerned and began calling the school. Wimbush said she called the school’s office more than 20 times and got no answer, so she drove to the school, where more than 100 parents had amassed after receiving disturbing messages from their children about the lockdown.
Kyona Gilliam said her daughter, who attends Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School next door, sent her a message saying: “If anything happens, I love you.”
Lovely Cato-Chuang hugged her mother, Teresa Cato, who was in tears after hours worrying about her daughter and friends.
“I held it together until I saw them,” Cato said.
Cato-Chuang said she had just gone to lunch when police stormed into the school. Students were scared and tried to run, she said, but police stopped them from leaving the cafeteria. Cato-Chuang and her friends took cover in the kitchen — the only enclosed space in the cafeteria area, she said, but police made them sit at the lunchroom tables. She said her group was lying on the floor for cover.
The officers were joking among themselves, she said, but she could not say if it was to put the students at ease.
“The longer it went on, I felt like it wasn’t serious,” she said of the threat. Police declined to say whether they believe that the report of someone being threatened with a weapon was true or a hoax.
Seniors at the school, which has metal detectors, said it had been about four years since they’d had a lockdown that lasted most of the school day.
A half-dozen students who arrived late waited outside after police stopped them from going inside.
“I counted more than 20 cop cars when I got here,” said Rushawn Sangster, a senior at the school. “That’s not a usual thing to see around a high school. ... They told me to go stand behind a car until further notice, I guess for safety reasons.”
Some of the parents, who arrived soon after police but were not allowed to pick up their children until the 2:15 dismissal, expressed frustration that the school district had not given them any kind of official notification or alert about the situation. Some were also concerned about reports that their children were being searched individually by police.
“They can’t get mad at the parents for acting this way — with everything that’s happened everywhere else,” said Kearra Carson, whose daughter is a freshman at Huguenot. “It’s sad that we have to sit out here not knowing what’s going on.”
Carson and others said the school calls them almost daily with notifications on sports cancellations or senior events, even when their children are not affected by those events.
The school system said in a statement that RPS notifies parents only “once the all-clear is given by safety officials,” citing accuracy as a reason for the delay.
“The only exception to this is if students and staff are in any immediate danger prompting the need for pickup or evacuation,” the statement said. “This was not the case today and the quick response from RPD as well as the RPS Safety & Security team is greatly appreciated. As always, the safety of our students is our number one priority and counselors will be available at the school to speak with anyone tomorrow that may want to talk about today’s incident.”
The school system said students were searched as needed.
“RPD was working in conjunction with RPS Safety & Security to conduct a sweep of the building and search students as needed for an incident of this nature,” the district said. “RPD assumes the authority of the school and can search students with probable cause (i.e., a potential threat). Per exceptions to the Fourth Amendment set by the U.S. Supreme Court, the interest of public safety outweighs individual privacy rights.”