By Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye and Amelia Naismith
Ponoka Composite High School (PCHS) was on lockdown on the morning of Dec. 21 after police received information of a possible gun threat to students.
Jayson Lovell, assistant superintendent of schools with Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS), says there are several levels of lockdown in which the school could be placed. “We did secure the building. So we had doors locked. We had at the front door … a presence with police there.”
In conjunction with maintained police presence, the front door of the school remained unlocked for the rest of the day. The students’ Christmas banquet was cancelled.
An email to parents from principal Ian Rawlinson stated a staff member learned of an alleged threat of violence against PCHS, which is when Wolf Creek contacted RCMP.
Ponoka News has learned some students received a text message to not go to school on Friday.
One parent reported students were first sent to their home rooms and locked in for their safety. Teachers told students to be quiet during that time. At about 10:30 a.m. Rawlinson spoke at an all-school assembly.
In a joint decision with the RCMP, parents and bus drivers were notified and students were sent home at approximately 11 a.m. At that time a police officer was there to ensure people were safe.
At press time Lovell couldn’t address any specifics of the situation. “But what I can let you know is that we were informed by school personnel, today, that we had the threat of a violent, threat-making situation at the high school.”
“The police of course are investigating the matter and we’re not prepared to make any comments on the matter because that’s their situation to address,” he added.
Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm said as soon as police were advised, all Ponoka schools were put on high alert. At approximately 9:45 a.m. Mounties attended the home of the person they believed involved with the alleged threat.
“We did our groundwork, our investigation and we located the alleged suspect. A 17-year-old youth was located at a residence in Ponoka and arrested without incident,” said Chisholm. “Firearms and ammunition was found at the location.”
A police dog services officer from Wetaskiwin assisted as well as he happened to be in Ponoka at the time. Weapons were found in the boy’s room and RCMP collected a .22-calibre rifle with some clips and ammunition, along with a high-powered rifle.
The home has been secured and as of 1 p.m. Dec. 21 police were waiting to execute a search warrant on the property. Charges are pending against the youth for uttering threats, unsafe storage of firearms, and possession of a weapon dangerous to the public peace.
Witnesses were questioned shortly after students were released from the school.
“We’re interviewing people that may have heard something,” explained Chisholm. “We have to speak to friends, family and students.”
Students’ safety was of utmost importance to the school. “In consultation with the RCMP we shortened the school day and arranged students to be transported home. At all times, the decision and actions in WCPS are informed by our commitment to student and staff safety,” Rawlinson said in the release.
Although Lovell didn’t commit to employing a professional to help staff and students cope with the situation, he said the school will listen to their concerns. “We have worked, today, closely with our student services department. We do have resources that we can deploy in the school division, and of course in circumstances like this we want to ensure staff and students are returning to school in January feeling like they have the support they need.”
Two other schools close to similar threats
Two Rocky Mountain House schools were closed down as well due to a gun threat in that area; West Central High School and St. Dominic Catholic School share space in the Confluence Campus Building.
Police notified the two schools of a potential gun threat Dec. 20 at 8:30 p.m. Superintendent Brian Celli of Wild Rose Public Schools was alerted by police of the rumour. “My understanding was a student had contacted them with this information.”
Ponoka RCMP do not believe the two incidents are related and at press time a court date was set for Dec. 28.
Along with the possibility of legal consequences there could also be consequences employed by the school division. It is also unclear if the suspect student will be allowed to return to the school.
“I can’t speak to that, other than I can share with you we have very clear administrative procedures and policies around any kind of disciplinary action,” said Lovell. Administrative procedure 351 details the processes of student discipline, suspension and expulsion. Within the division suspension is the removal of a student from school property and activities up to five days. Expulsion is longer than five days and is normally limited to the school year in which the expulsion takes place.
With files from Crystal Rhyno of the Red Deer Advocate.