BEAVERTON, Ore. (KOIN) — Ben Gibson was in his 7th-grade classroom at Stoller Middle School in Beaverton last Friday when there was a PA announcement.
The announcement: “There’s a lockdown.”
“My teacher started yelling, ‘Everyone get behind the desks!’ She ran around pulling the blinds down,” the 12-year-old said. “Some kids were hiding behind the desks and she just told us to be silent. And we were freaking out, like, we were all crying and praying that they wouldn’t come.”
The school was placed on lockdown after an emailed threat came in around 12:20 p.m. to “multiple Beaverton School District administrators,” the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said in a release on Friday.
That day, Jeff Talbot with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office told KOIN 6 News, “Once we received this threat, we had concerns that a suspect was possibly inside, could potentially be inside and that’s what caused this methodical search of the school.”
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said officers found no suspicious activities or objects after 2 full sweeps of the school. Officials decided to search all of the classrooms twice based on the information that was in the email.
“We worked with our law enforcement partners, Washington County Sheriff’s Office and our IT department running forensics, trying to track down where this email came from,” Beaverton School District spokesperson Maureen Wheeler told KOIN 6 News on Monday.
“Today we had 30 to 40 additional staff, at least, and of course additional law enforcement presence as well.”
School and district administrators worked closely with law enforcement over the weekend as the investigation continued. Investigators said they “are making progress.”
Wheeler said they don’t know yet who sent the email and don’t know if it’s a student. But they are confident the school is safe.
Wheeler said they recognize “this was a really traumatic thing for these young people to experience. We want to make sure we’re tending to their needs psychologically.”
There will be a larger-than-usual staff presence throughout most of the week, she said.
“We certainly honor a parent’s prerogative to hold their child home with them,” Wheeler said. “We would encourage them, we do have to return to normalcy. We try and do it as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.”
About 200 students were kept home on Monday by their parents.
One of those parents who opted to keep their child home was Ben Gibson’s mom, Wendy.
“I just didn’t sleep. I just didn’t,” Wendy Gibson told KOIN 6 News. “We were wrapping a package for Christmas and he (Ben) told me he really didn’t want to go, he was scared to go. And so I was then scared.”
Wendy said her son sent her a text at 12:21 p.m. Friday, “right after it happened, and said, ‘I think someone’s here, Mom. We’re on lockdown. I’m scared.'”
She said she and her husband raced over to the school and stayed there for hours.
“It was just really scary because you get there and you see all the police.”
More than 1500 students were affected and each was released to parents individually. The process to release the students lasted into early Friday evening.
“It took a long time for reunification,” the district’s Wheeler said. “I think we wanted to make sure we got the right parent and the right kiddo together. So it played out like it did and it went into the evening. But, luckily, every kid was accounted for. We learn from all these exercises.”
The district will debrief soon but Wheeler said the methodical dismissal was important for other reasons, too.
“It was a way for us to kind of just see what temperament was between child and parent, too. You know, people are watching, you know, for any sign. That’s part of this, as well.”
Not every parent was scared or worried on Monday.
Colin Looi sent his 7th-grade daughter to school and said “she seems to be taking it in stride.”
Sending her was not a hard decision, he said.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. They searched the school, right? If anything, it’s safer today than on Friday.”
Ben Gibson will be back in his classroom on Tuesday, but Wendy said it was important for them to have this extra day.
They went to Stoller Middle School to pick up the items he left behind on Friday. Wendy said he “seemed like he was OK and I felt a little bit better. But I still really would like some answers.”