Officials: Students were never in danger during gun hoax

A sheriff’s deputy escorts New Prague Middle School students after the lockdown on Wednesday, March 20. Students at all New Prague Area Schools were let go at 10:30 a.m. after a student called in a shooting at the middle school that turned out to be a hoax. (Patrick Fisher Photo)

Fear and shock turned to relief the morning of Wednesday, March 20, as area residents found out a possible shooting at New Prague Middle School was a hoax. 

New Prague Police Chief Mark Vosejpka informed various media at a news conference that a 12-year-old male is in custody and no other suspects were being sought. 

"At no time was there the presence of a firearm within the school, and the students and staff were never in any real danger," said Chief Vosejpka. "But it is important to note that our emergency response system worked exactly as it was designed. I want to commend all of the law enforcement and emergency response officials and staff for their immediate response, and thank the school officials and staff for their quick action in protection of the kids."

Scott County 911 dispatch received the first of two calls at 7:55 a.m. Within moments emergency responders from the New Prague, Savage, Prior Lake, Belle Plaine, Jordan, Shakopee and Lonsdale police departments, the state patrol, and the Scott, Rice, and Le Sueur county sheriff’s offices responded. Chief Vosejpka estimated there were 35 to 50 officers on the scene. Also on site were North Memorial and Ridgeview ambulances and members of the New Prague Fire Department.

The middle school and the Central Education Campus, about a block south and where sixth grade classes are held, were put into lockdown and searched. The two buildings accommodate more than 900 students.

By 9 a.m. investigators on the scene were confident that the calls were a hoax. Vosejpka said during the investigation officers found that no one had heard gunfire and they did not find people in the rooms that had been indicated in the calls. During questioning from the media, Vosejpka said the suspect placed the calls from a cell phone. 

Concerned parents were directed to FaithPoint Lutheran Church, about four blocks south on Central Avenue to wait until the end of the lockout.

All schools within the New Prague Area School District were put on "Code Red" – the highest level of security alert. All schools were immediately placed under lockdown, and the safety of students and staff was secured. Elementary classes were cancelled and children were returned home.

New Prague Area Schools Superintendent Larry Kauzlarich said those elementary school students who may not have anyone at home were brought to the schools until an older sibling or parent could pick them up. All schools were let out at 10:30 a.m.

"Children’s safety is always our top priority," said Superintendent Kauzlarich. "This incident truly underscores how critical our ‘Code Red’ training has been."

"There was never a time when children were in danger," said Kauzlarich. 

Recognizing the emotional distress the incident may have placed on the students, Kauzlarich said school counselors and social workers will be on hand when the schools re-open Thursday, March 21. Kauzlarich noted counseling will also be available for parents.

This is the second “Code Red” incident at New Prague Schools this year. On February 14 a high school student was arrested after leaving a note about a bomb in a rest room at the school. That student has since been expelled. 

The family of the 12-year-old juvenile has retained the law firm of Halberg Criminal Defense. In a press release, Marsh Halberg said, "Law enforcement has been professional and sensitive to the dynamics involved in this incident. The police are not focusing on any other individuals at this time. On behalf of my client’s parents they wish for other parents to know that no firearm was actually involved and that it is safe for the students to return to school."

No charges have been filed as of 4 p.m. Wednesday. Hallberg said his client would remain in custody at least until a juvenile detention hearing on Thursday or Friday.