Krystal Sierra wanted to escape the specter of mass shootings when she moved her family from Colorado to the quiet Scott County community of New Prague about a month ago.
On Wednesday morning, she was one of hundreds of parents who received an automated phone message about a possible shooter inside New Prague Middle School, where her daughter, Amber, is a student. It wasn’t until two hours later that Sierra and the others got definitive word that it was a hoax, a prank perpetrated by a 12-year-old boy.
“We just moved away from Colorado to get away from this,” Sierra said. “It’s very frightening to know you aren’t safe anywhere.”
The 12-year-old suspect was arrested and will remain in custody until a bail or detention hearing Thursday or Friday, according to his attorney, Marsh Halberg. He allegedly made two 911 calls about four minutes apart, saying there was a shooting at the middle school and that two people were injured.
In the second call, he pinpointed the location as the Central Education Campus, an auxiliary building just up the hill from the main middle school building.
New Prague Police Chief Mark Vosejpka said the first 911 call came at 7:55 a.m., and within minutes, officers from Savage, Belle Plaine, Shakopee, Lonsdale, the State Patrol and Rice, Scott and Le Sueur counties responded. All six school district buildings were put on “Code Red” lockdown, with students kept silent in locked, darkened classrooms and offices.
Police with dogs and big guns patrolled the halls, while others searched room to room. Within 20 to 30 minutes, Vosejpka said, it became apparent that the calls were a hoax. No staff members or students had heard any gunfire. No injured victims were found, he said.
The 12-year-old was nabbed by a Shakopee investigator who “conducted an investigation and knew a direction to pursue and he ultimately was right,” the chief said. Police are not looking for any other suspects, Vosejpka said.
Anxious parents awaiting news congregated at FaithPoint Lutheran Church, up the street from the school.
Danielle Bible, who was at the church, said her son called her to say he was OK about 9:30 a.m.
Shawna Scott said she was in touch with her eighth-grade son, Dustyn, via text message and cellphone.
“He seemed OK, but they don’t know what’s going on,” she said while waiting out the lockdown.
The school buildings were kept on lockdown until shortly after 10 a.m., when Superintendent Larry Kauzlarich said the decision was made to dismiss classes for the day. Buses and cars filled with parents rolled up to the schools to pick up the children.
“I’m still trying to come down after that emotional roller-coaster ride I was on,” said Janice Daniels, who arrived at the school to pick up her son, Aaron, 13.
Consequences for boy
Halberg said the father of the suspect called him in a panic after learning that his son was involved in the incident. The boy’s parents wanted everyone to know there never was a firearm involved and there was “no true danger to the people at school,” Halberg said.
Several prosecutors who are not involved in the case said the boy could face charges ranging from terroristic threats — a felony in adult court — to disorderly conduct or falsely reporting a crime. He potentially could be held in a juvenile detention facility until his 19th birthday, but more likely will get a sentence of probation.
“The purpose of juvenile court isn’t necessarily to punish a child,” said Dakota County District Judge Richard Spicer. “It’s to look at what his needs are and to address those needs so he’s not in the system as an adult.”
Vosejpka and Kauzlarich commended students’ and staff members’ quick response to the incident. The schools practice the Code Red drills five or six times a year, in addition to fire drills, Kauzlarich said.
Both men expressed frustration about such hoaxes. It was the second in New Prague in just over a month; on Feb. 14, a 15-year-old sophomore at New Prague High School allegedly left a note in a bathroom saying there was a bomb at the school. That boy has been criminally charged and expelled from school.
“School needs to be a safe place to go,” Vosejpka said.
Said Kauzlarich, “I’ve been doing this for many many years. We never used to have to do Code Reds many years ago. It’s just part of our routine now.”
Parents were just glad it wasn’t real.
“Why are you holding me so tight?” one girl asked her mom outside the school.
“Because I’m just glad you’re safe,” her mother responded quietly.
Star Tribune staff writers Susan Feyder and Paul Walsh contributed to this report.
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