BYRON — Byron Middle School saw a brief lockdown on Wednesday morning after a report of a person carrying an item resembling a gun case was made by a student, Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle said.
At 7:55 a.m. Byron School District personnel, along with the Byron school resource officer, were made aware of a report of a person accessing the BMS Theater holding a long slender bag that resembled a gun case. Emergency procedures were followed to ensure the safety of students and staff. Additional units from the Ogle County Sheriff’s Office and Byron Police Department responded to the scene. After an investigation, it was determined there was no weapon, and the individual entering the building was a park district employee bringing a banner (and case) into the theater for an upcoming show. The lockdown was lifted by 8:15 a.m.
A child on a school bus made the initial report and provided a description of the individual and vehicle. Once the school was locked down and secured, law enforcement met with school staff and reviewed footage from the area of the report and determined what the case was. The individual and vehicle had left the school by that point.
“To that student's credit, it very much looked like a weapon in a case,” VanVickle said. “The takeaway here is that everybody did exactly what we train to do. The child saw something and said something to an adult and adults did what they needed to do and law enforcement responded appropriately. The kids were put into lockdown for their security and verified that it wasn't a credible threat to the kids. By 8:15 a.m. the lockdown was lifted and they continued on with the school day.”
VanVickle called the law enforcement response to the incident “significant.” Enough officers and deputies arrived at the school to be able to go to the other two schools in Byron to make sure they were secure and provide for the safety of those students.
The school resource officer at BMS is an Ogle County Sheriff’s deputy and relayed the report to law enforcement.
“Any time that you can have somebody aware of what's going on and be in close proximity in such a short period of time, the studies show that it helps eliminate a problem or eliminate a shooter,” VanVickle said. “It's a value to always have a police officer or sheriff's deputy at a school. You can see the good work that our deputies do at schools with the interactions with the kids, let alone the safety measures. That interaction with the students has been immense. The child felt comfortable making that report, I have no doubt, because he had a rapport with our SRO.”
The sheriff said that the Byron School District and the rest of the school districts in the county are proactive on active shooter preparations and drills and “everything worked accordingly” Wednesday based on communication and established relationships.
The sheriff’s office typically meets with schools about their safety plans once a year and does outside training for active shooter events throughout the year. Work includes movement tactics and general knowledge of county schools.
“We do train in most of the schools in the county on a regular basis,” VanVickle said. “We try to split those up and make sure that all of our deputies are familiar with the schools. When our SRO calls out that a potential shooter went in through a specific door, all of our deputies know where it is and can respond to it in a quick fashion.”
Following the investigation and the lockdown being lifted Wednesday, law enforcement representatives stayed at the Byron schools for a time to talk with and comfort students.
“I was at the elementary school and I was able to talk with the kids and take some of the stress away,” VanVickle said. “While they practice for things like this, it is stressful. We never had to deal with something like that when I was in school. This is just a different learning environment for our kids and we want to make it as positive an environment as possible. Our deputies and BPD hung around for a while and had contact with kids and parents to reassure them that everything was good and that they were well protected and they could continue on with their school day.”
Those interactions included VanVickle speaking with the student who made the initial first report.
“Quite honestly, if this would have been a true event, that time he saved by seeing somebody go into the building would have been immense,” VanVickle said. “Minutes matter in those situations. By him providing that information right away and the school bus driver and SRO relaying that information right away, minutes were shaved off. If God forbid it was an active shooter situation, we would have been many minutes ahead of the curve in stopping a potential loss of life.”