Mandeville Junior High lockdown over; gun found

Two Mandeville Junior High School students were arrested Wednesday after the discovery of a loaded revolver in a boys’ bathroom prompted a school lockdown that lasted more than two hours and caused a steady stream of worried parents to pull their children out of school.

The lockdown started after a school resource officer, acting on a report from a student, found the gun on top of ceiling tiles in the bathroom, according to Lt. Gerald Sticker, of the Mandeville Police.

Two male students were taken into custody and questioned at the school. Later, the teens — a 13-year-old seventh grader and a 14-year-old eighth grader — were taken to the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center, where they were both booked with possession of a firearm on school property.

Police are still investigating why the gun was brought to school, but believe it belonged to a family member of one of the boys, Sticker said.

That student does not live with that family member.

School officials were notified at the beginning of the school day, which starts at 7:30 a.m., that a loaded weapon might be on campus, school district spokeswoman Meredith Mendez said. Officials immediately alerted police and locked down the school.

Two dogs — one from the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office and another from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — swept the school both inside and outside.

The lockers and bags of each of the suspects were also searched, he said. No other weapons were found.

Soon after the lockdown began, an automated call went out from the school to parents, who began arriving on campus at 639 Carondelet St. to pick up their students. By the end of the day, almost a third of the school’s students had left early, officials said.

Many said they had no idea what was going on.

“They just put us in lockdown,” seventh-grader C.J. Griffith said, adding he was in his first period English class. “We just thought it was a regular lockdown drill.”

During the emergency, students were kept in their classrooms, he said.

“It’s just scary,” said Kim Noonan, C.J.’s mother. “You never want to think that this could happen anywhere.”

About 650 students attend the highly rated junior high, which scored an A in the state’s letter grade evaluation system.

Firearms on campus are infrequent, but not unheard of, in St. Tammany Parish public schools.

In 2011, three students were arrested after authorities uncovered a plot to target a specific student and a faculty member on the first day of school at Lakeshore High School.

The trio had formed a group called “Day Zero” and intended to shoot any law enforcement officers who tried to stop them.

They also created detailed plans for obtaining the guns and taking them to school.

Two of the students pleaded guilty to solicitation for murder and conspiracy to commit terrorizing and were sentenced to juvenile jail.

The third pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was also sentenced to a short term in juvenile jail.

In April of that same year, Boyet Junior High and Little Oak Middle School in Slidell were locked down after a report of someone near the school with a gun.

A student at Boyet later told investigators that he brought two air rifles into his house, which was near the school, earlier in the day.

Across the state, there were 205 suspensions or expulsions for offenses related to firearms during last school year, according to the Louisiana Department of Education.

East Baton Rouge schools had the most, with 38.

Schools in the Recovery School District in New Orleans reported 25, while Jefferson Parish schools had 23. St. Tammany reported fewer than 10.

During a lockdown, St. Tammany Parish teachers are instructed to lock the doors to their classrooms, Mendez said.

Roll is taken and teachers inform the office of any missing or additional students in their classes.

The procedures are constantly reviewed and are posted in each classroom, she said.

In compliance with state law, each school in the parish conducted a lockdown drill during the first 30 days of school, she added.

Mandeville Junior High does not have metal detectors at its entrance, but it does have a resource officer, something that is not available at all of the parish’s junior highs.

The school also has fencing around the perimeter, identification systems for entry, and video cameras inside all buses and the school, Mendez said.

Wendy Bouey said she was walking into work Wednesday when her coworkers told her to “turn around and go get your baby.”

She said she imagined the worst as she was driving to the school to get her son Kade, who is in 7th grade.

“I was praying to God that it was not my child,” she said.

St. Tammany Bureau Chief Sara Pagones contributed to this report.