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Phone threat leads to lockdown of Aspen School District campus, others

Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh, Pitkin County Undersheriff Alex Burchetta and Pitkin County Sheriff's Office incident commander Bruce Benjamin speak at a press conference at the district offices.
Breeze Richardson
Aspen Public Radio
Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh (left), Pitkin County Undersheriff Alex Burchetta and incident commander Bruce Benjamin from the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office speak at a press conference at the school district offices on Feb. 22. A school shooting threat that officials believe is "likely a prank" put the school into lockdown Wednesday morning.

Pueden encontrar la versión en español aquí.

This story has been updated at 5:45 p.m. to add in comments from Kelsy Been from the Roaring Fork School District.

Aspen School District and Pitkin County officials report that no incident occurred and everyone is safe after receiving threats Wednesday morning. The campus went into lockdown procedures after Pitkin County Regional Emergency Dispatch received a threatening phone call at around 8:25 a.m. on its administrative line.

The caller said they were “walking into the school to shoot all of the kids,” according to Pitkin County Undersheriff Alex Burchetta. Officials say the dispatcher engaged the caller in line with their training, but the caller refused to give any additional information.

Aspen School District was one of several districts around Colorado that went into lockdown Wednesday after receiving threats. At 8:50 a.m., officials say they were in communication with another jurisdiction that had received similar threats.

In a press conference Wednesday, Burchetta said officials believe the local threat was “likely a prank.”

“I don’t want to get into too many details, because I’m assuming there will be not only a statewide, but a federal investigation into this, so I don’t want to impact any of those investigative efforts,” he said. “But I will say the information we received, it was very similar to the threat we received here in Aspen, and I believe that other jurisdictions throughout the state also received very similar information and threats as well.”

Burchetta said they treated the threat as real until proven otherwise, and law enforcement went through all the schools methodically to ensure students and staff were safe.

Aspen School District Post-Lockdown Press Conference (Feb. 22)
Listen here to the full press conference about Wednesday's school shooting threat and response at the Aspen School District.

Bruce Benjamin, the incident commander during this event, said the initial focus was on Aspen Elementary School because the school has an earlier start time than the middle and high schools and was already full of staff and students at the time of the threat. He said they went into lockdown immediately, and officers were able to quickly sweep the school.

“We were very cognizant of … the elementary school students shouldn't be left in a hiding position with the lights off for very long,” he said. “That would be extremely detrimental from an emotional standpoint, so we really did put our focus in trying to clear any possible threat to the elementary school.”

School was canceled for the rest of the day, and all students across all three campuses were reunited with their parents by 12:00 p.m.

Public safety officials at Aspen School District press conference for Feb. 22 lockdown
Breeze Richardson
Aspen Public Radio
Public safety officials attend a press conference at the Aspen School District board room on Feb. 22 for a debriefing on a school shooting threat and subsequent lockdown. All students and faculty are safe, and the students have been reunited with their families.

Aspen School District Superintendent Dave Baugh thanked first responders, but lamented that such a process was even necessary at all.

“These deeply concerning events, which are all too common in our country today, are reprehensible,” he said. “The trauma socially, emotionally is huge to adults and children, and our counselors and staff are available. We encourage all parents and guardians to reach out to us, if you see any symptoms of trauma and stress in your children. We take this very, very seriously.”

Whether schools will be open tomorrow depends on snowfall from the current winter storm, Baugh said.

“At this point in time, we are planning on a regular school day because we think routine and a return to normalcy is vital to the health and wealth of our community,” Baugh said. “And I mean, the wealth emotionally. It’s very important for students and staff to return to routine after situations like this, so if we can be open tomorrow safely, we will be open tomorrow.”

Further downvalley, all Carbondale and Basalt Schools went into “secure” protocol in response to the incident in Aspen. That means that no one can enter or exit school buildings, no outdoor recess, and students and staff remain in classrooms. The district lifted that secure status at around 9:30 a.m.

Glenwood Springs High School went into lockdown shortly after 10:00 a.m. The Roaring Fork School District said in a statement that this was due to “a swatting incident.” That’s when a false report of an emergency is made to call in a law enforcement response to a real address. At the same time, other schools in Glenwood Springs and schools in Carbondale went into secure status again.

At around 10:30, the lockdown was lifted, as was the secure status for other Glenwood Schools. Carbondale schools remained secure for the remainder of the day out of an abundance of caution. Roaring Fork High School students were released half an hour early at 1:40 p.m. due to that secure protocol.

Kelsy Been with Roaring Fork School District said it can be difficult to coordinate responses when the district is so spread out across the valley.

"Whenever you see, for instance, today, when Carbondale schools were on secure after other schools had had their secure lifted, that’s because we are working with three different police departments," she said.

Been also said they'd be monitoring students and staff over the coming days and weeks to see if they need to pull in additional resources for mental health and counseling.

Garfield Re-2 School District also went to secure status shortly after 10 a.m., and went back to normal shortly after 10:40.

“All schools are currently being released from SECURE status. The valley law enforcement issue has been determined to no longer present an issue to our district,” the district posted on its Facebook page. “Specifically this issue was in response to a threat originating in Roaring Fork School District that could have impacted Garfield Re-2.”

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering local news and City of Aspen-based issues. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.
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