Red Lake School Shooting Alleviated by School Emergency Plan

Alert system fell silent during school shooting, but teachers, staff carried through with emergency plan


ST. PAUL (AP) - Red Lake High School's emergency response plan calls for warnings to be broadcast over the intercom in case of an emergency, but no warning was issued when a gunman shot his way into the school, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Thursday.

Acting Superintendent Carol Aenne said the security guard who survived the attack warned office workers, but they didn't give an alert over the intercom.

"It was totally chaotic there. I'm not sure" why there was no announcement, Aenne said.

Federal officials have credited the school's disaster plan with saving lives. Aenne credited the action of teachers, too.

When Jeff Weise began shooting in the school on March 21, a fire alarm sounded. That's usually a signal to evacuate, but instead teachers locked themselves and students in their classrooms, Aenne said.

"Hearing gunshots, you don't evacuate, you lockdown. On the part of the teachers, that was fast action, and they saved lives," she said.

She said investigators aren't sure why the fire alarm sounded, but speculated that it may have been set off by the gun smoke from the approximately 45 shots fired by Weise.

Michael Tabman, special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis office, said Weise tried to open "at least half a dozen doors" before forcing his way into the classroom where one teacher and five students were killed.

U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger said on Monday that while there may have been no widespread warning, teachers knew what to do because of the disaster plan.

"This wasn't an isolated decision made by an isolated teacher. It was consistent throughout the school," he said. "What was clear was that there were very loud gunshots in a very small school. The gunshots were heard throughout the school and were properly identified as gunshots at the time."

The Columbine shootings in 1999 prompted a Minnesota law requiring school districts to have emergency response and crisis-management plans. Red Lake came up with its plan about three years ago, and each building has its own crisis response team, Aenne said.

"Some buildings took it more seriously than others," she said of the plan.

High school principal Chris Dunshee said although no one had time to implement the school's emergency plan and warn the entire school, "teachers knew enough that when they heard there was an emergency, they locked their doors."

"I think the quick response of law enforcement was the major thing that saved a lot of lives and kept a lot of other people from losing their lives," said Dunshee.

Aenne said officials are examining the locks on the classroom doors to determine whether they are all "appropriate." Also, there'll be more emergency drills, she said.

At least for this year, those drills won't involve students.

"I don't think we could do a drill with the kids this year," Aenne said. "I'm not sure they're ready for it. But the teachers are."