Threat caused Coopersville Schools lockdown

Ottawa County sheriff's deputies at Coopersville Area Schools after a lockdown. (Sept. 4, 2014)

COOPERSVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Coopersville Area Public Schools were on lockdown for a short time Thursday afternoon after a threat toward students and staff.

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office said the threat “indicating potential harm to students and staff” was phoned in to Ottawa County Central Dispatch around 3 p.m.. Dispatchers engaged in “some dialogue” with the caller before the person hung up.

The sheriff’s office alerted the district. In response, the district put all buildings — which are all in the same area — on lockdown.

“Lockdown is a process where we secure the entrances and exits to the buildings. We move kids inside their classrooms, turn off the lights, away from the windows,” Coopersville Superintendent Ron Veldman explained.

The high school and middle school had already been dismissed, but the elementary schools were still in session.

“As we came to the school, we did surround the school until we were able to determine if there was an imminent threat,” said sheriff’s office Capt. Valerie Weiss.

Deputies and K-9s swept all the buildings and found them all to be safe. The sheriff’s gave the all-clear around 4 p.m. Authorities said they did not believe any students or staff were in immediate danger.

“We’re very pleased with our staff and students what they did, how they functioned and operated,” Veldman said at a Thursday afternoon press conference. “We’re very pleased with the response of our staff and we always look for improvement in our process, as well.”

An initial post on the district’s Facebook page around 3:20 p.m. confirmed the lockdown and said students would remain in their classrooms until the sheriff’s office gave an all-clear. The district asked parents not to come to get their children.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Gamm told 24 Hour News 8 in a phone interview around 3:30 p.m. that the lockdown was “a precautionary measure.”

A second Facebook post around 3:45 p.m. read, “All students and staff are safe.”

“They called and said that the school was in lockdown and that all the students and staff were fine,” said parent Ryan Piszczek. “It’s nerve-racking. You get nervous, but I had faith that the school wasn’t lying to us about them being safe.”

While Piszczek said he thinks the school responded well, he wished the district had released more information sooner — as did many other parents who took to Facebook to air their frustrations.

“It would be nice if they gave a little more info, not right,” one parent wrote.

Another said, “thats great that kids are accounted for but I am not okay with not knowing anything when my kids are involved.”

The district said it released information when it became available.

“We have the information we have, and our first priority is to provide safety and security for our students, and that’s what we did. And we are going to provide information to parents as we receive it, but based on this situation there’s not much more we had except we knew we needed to secure the facilities,” Veldman said.

In the 4 p.m. Facebook post that announced the lockdown was over, the district thanked parents for their patience.

“We take safety very seriously!” the post read in part.

Vehicles waiting to approach Coopesville Area Public Schools after a lockdown. (Sept. 4, 2014)
(Vehicles waiting to approach the schools.)

24 Hour News 8 was told that buses would leave the schools shortly after 4 p.m., after which parents would be allowed to pick up their children. A 24 Hour News 8 crew on the scene saw a long line of cars and buses waiting to get into the schools around 4:15 p.m., though foot traffic was being allowed freely.

The sheriff’s office said it is working to determine the origin of the threatening call.

“The threat was taken very serious as evident by the response of emergency personnel to the scene. Investigators are continuing to work with the administration of the [Coopersville Area Public Schools] and [the Ottawa County Central Dispatch Authority],” the sheriff’s department said in a release late Thursday afternoon.

Anyone with information is asked to call Silent Observer at 1.877.88.SILENT.

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