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Middle school dealing with shooting hoax, bomb threat
A 12-year-old boy faces a felony charge for terroristic threats and a lesser charge of falsely reporting a crime after a false report of a shooting at New Prague Middle School Wednesday, March 20.
The boy was held for five nights in the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center in Jordan before being released to his parents’ custody following a juvenile court thearing Monday. His next court appearance is scheduled for Apri 22, according to his attorney, Marsh Halberg.
Classes were interrupted the following day, when school employees began recieving emails saying that bombs had been placed in the building. The middle school and CEC were evacuated as a precaution, with students taken to the New Prague Area Community Center while the buildings were searched. Students returned to class about an hour later.
No danger Officials emphasized that students were never in danger after the first incident, which was reported at 7:54 a.m.
During a news conference after the incident, New Prague Police Chief Mark Vosejpka said the 12-yearold male was in custody and no other suspects were being sought.
"At no time was there the presence of a firearm within the school, and the students and staff were never in any real danger," said Chief Vosejpka. "But it is important to note that our emergency response system worked exactly as it was designed. I want to commend all of the law enforcement and emergency response officials and staff for their immediate response, and thank the school officials and staff for their quick action in protection of the kids."
Scott County 911 dispatch received the first of two calls at 7:54 a.m. Within moments emergency responders from the New Prague, Savage, Prior Lake, Belle Plaine, Jordan, Shakopee and Lonsdale police departments, the State Patrol, and the Scott, Rice, and Le Sueur county sheriff’s offices responded. Vosejpka estimated there were 35 to 50 officers on the scene. Also on site were North Memorial and Ridgeview ambulances and members of the New Prague Fire Department.
The middle school and the Central Education Campus, about a block south where sixth grade classes are held, were put into lockdown and searched. The two buildings accommodate more than 900 students.
By 9 a.m., investigators on the scene were confident that the calls were a hoax. Vosejpka said that during the investigation, officers found that no one had heard gunfire and they did not find people in the rooms that had been indicated in the calls. During questioning from the media, Vosejpka said the suspect did the calls from a cell phone.
Initially fear and shock greeted the news about the possible shooting, which turned to relief that the event was a hoax. Concerned parents were directed to Faith- Point Lutheran Church, about four blocks south on Central Avenue, to wait until the end of the lockout.
Classes cancelled All schools within the New Prague Area School District were put on "Code Red" – the highest level of security alert. All schools were immediately placed under lockdown, and the safety of students and staff was secured. Elementary classes were cancelled and children were returned home.
New Prague Area Schools Superintendent Larry Kauzlarich said those elementary school students who may not have anyone at home were brought to the schools, until an older sibling or parent could pick them up. All schools were let out at 10:30 a.m.
"Children’s safety is always our top priority," said Superintendent Kauzlarich. "This incident truly underscores how critical our ‘Code Red’ training has been."
"There was never a time when children were in danger," said Kauzlarich.
Recognizing the emotional distress the incident may have placed on students, school counselors and social workers were on hand when the schools re-opened on Thursday, March 21. Kauzlarich noted counseling is also available for parents.
The family of the 12-year old juvenile has retained the law firm of Halberg Criminal Defense. In a press release, Halberg said, "Law enforcement has been professional and sensitive to the dynamics involved in this incident. The police are not focusing on any other individuals at this time. On behalf of my client’s parents they wish for other parents to know that no firearm was actually involved and that it is safe for the students to return to school."
Halberg said at the juvenile court hearing on Monday, March 25, Scott County Judge Chris Wilton allowed the youngster to be released to his parents’ custody on the condition he have round-the-clock adult supervision.
Scott County Attorney Pat Ciliberto said he couldn’t comment as the case involves a juvenile.
Bomb threat The shooting report triggered the second "Code Red" incident at New Prague Area Schools this year. On February 14 a high school student was arrested after leaving a note about a bomb in a rest room at the school. That student has since been expelled.
The third incident happened the day after the shooting hoax. Several school employees reported getting emailed threats from a person claiming to have placed several bombs inside the school.
Middle School Principal Tim Dittberner said while there were many doubts about the reports, the district took them seriously and searched the building.
Vosejpka said the emails were sent through an anonymous server, and that the person sending them must have had some level of sophisitication with computers. The emails were forwarded to the U.S. Marshal Service, which is investigating their origin. He said they likely were routed overseas, and there is a strong possiblity they will never find out who sent them.
Parent meeting The school district will hold a parent meeting on Tuesday, April 9, at the high school auditorium. The meeting is for all parents and will cover safety and security issues. An announcement will be send to parents and will be published in The Times next week.