Police receive false alarm about gunman at charter school

COTTONWOOD — Police received a phone call from whom they believed to be a concerned mother reporting a gunman at the American Heritage Academy Wednesday, but when police responded they determine it was only a lockdown drill by the school.

The mother said that her daughter was in a bathroom and that there was a gunman in the school, according to Cottonwood Police information officer Monica Kuhlt.

The school was conducting a surprise lockdown drill when Cottonwood police received the phone call. The woman told dispatch that her daughter had just texted her about the gunman. This prompted Cottonwood police and Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office deputies to respond, said Kuhlt.

Local police were not notified by the school about the drill, according to Kuhlt. The police officers found out once they arrived at the school.

American Heritage Principal Eric Evans said he does not know who sent the text. The problem is the call comes back to a phone number that cannot be traced.

Kuhlt said the call was made through an internet service and only the area code shows up. But the police officer said she believes the intent of the report was real, since it was an adult woman and she called during the drill.

Evans said he does not know if the text was made by a concerned student or if it is a prank. The school is conducting an internal investigation to determine who made the text, he added.

It’s a policy at the school that all cellphones during a lockdown are collected from students, Evans said. So if a student made the text, the phone was somehow kept by the student during the drill.

The school does not want students to use cellphones during lockdown drills, Evans pointed out. However, students can normally have cellphones on campus.

Evans said he always sends out a mass email to parents after they have a lockdown drill that day.

Wednesday was the second lockdown drill of the year, but they did not notify students or staff this time. He also did not notify local police, but intends to in the future.

Kuhlt said Cottonwood Police initially took the call, but the school is in Yavapai County jurisdiction despite being several blocks off Main Street in Cottonwood.

Cottonwood police responded quickly and evaluated the scene and it didn’t take long to determine it was only a drill. Evans said the drill was over and he met police outside.

Police had to respond as if something was happening, Kuhlt said, but she added that it was good practice for a real event for everyone involved.

Kuhlt said officers train annually for these situations and go into schools and do lockdown and active shooter drills with students.

Evans said with everything happening nationally and regionally at other schools, American Heritage is being proactive. The No. 1 concern is the safety of the students and staff, he said.

The school does a lockdown drill quarterly and on Wednesday they performed it during lunch and recess time. This is the first time in 15 drills that anything like this has happened, he said.

The cellphones are collected because the school does not want misinformation to get out and cause a panic, the principal said.