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Tuesday, April 29, 2008
'Weapon' at La Cueva Causes Evacuation, but Turns Out to Be Cardboard
By Zsombor Peter
Journal Staff Writer
A La Cueva High school student spotted with a cardboard gun at school found himself facing off with a team of fully armed police, dozens of squad cars and a helicopter Monday morning.
Officers used flash-bang devices as a precaution when they entered the school, and La Cueva went into full-scale evacuation mode, even after officers confirmed that the "weapon" was a fake. The police response included the bomb squad and a hostage negotiating team. Roads in and out of the area were closed.
Luke Schiffer, a 17-year-old student at the school, has been charged with interference with the educational process, a misdemeanor, and was booked at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center. He was later released to his parents.
An Albuquerque police resource officer at the school called for assistance at 9:25 a.m. after spotting a student with what looked like a real gun, APD spokesman John Walsh said. He said reports suggested that Schiffer was displaying the object in a potentially threatening way.
Officers found Schiffer in class and had him in custody by 10:05, but proceeded with the evacuation as a precautionary measure, Walsh said.
And although the gun was quickly identified as a fake, "we still take that as serious as if it was a real weapon," in case it's meant as a diversion, he said.
In any case of a potential active shooter, "we respond in great numbers with all the tools available to us."
Both regular officers and armored tactical units responded to the scene. Dozens of police cars blocked all routes to the school while an APD helicopter circled overhead.
Nervous parents gathered at a neighborhood park a few blocks from the school. Some, in touch with their children by cell phone, were circulating rumors that shots had been fired. Officers assured them that was not true.
Walsh said the sounds were likely those of "flash-bang" devices officers set off while entering the school before they knew the gun was a fake.
"Given the most recent events across the nation, we take this very serious," Walsh said.
Considering how seriously authorities take any report of guns on campus, Schiffer is "very lucky this ended in a fashion with no one getting hurt," Walsh said.
Walsh said it wasn't clear that Schiffer, who claimed to have found the gun, intended to cause a disruption.
Walsh was unable to provide a description of the gun, other than it was "cardboard."
Besides the misdemeanor charge, Albuquerque Public Schools spokesman Rigo Chavez said Schiffer also faces suspension, but probably not expulsion.
Students were held in their classrooms, some for hours, until officers let them out one at a time onto the school's athletic field. After searching the school for any more potential threats, officials started letting students back in about 1:30 p.m. to finish the day. By 2, parents who wished to check their children out were also let in.
As an additional precaution, Desert Ridge Middle School, a few blocks away, went into partial lockdown. Nearby elementary schools canceled recess.
Parents were divided over the response to the threat.
"This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen," said Louis Saunders, a retired military man upset with the decision to hold students in their classrooms for so long. "If there's a gunman, you get (the students) outside."
Saunders said he even advised his granddaughter, a La Cueva senior, by phone to break a window and escape if authorities refused to let the students out.
Diane Valberde thought authorities handled things well.
Her daughter, also a La Cueva senior, called her from class.
"I was just like ... no, this can't happen here," she said, recalling her reaction to the call.
APS officials said the district would make counselors available to students today.