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Criminal: Reliving A Lockdown

A middle school in Minnesota averted a school shooting by using a well-prepared lockdown.
Julienne Alexander
A middle school in Minnesota averted a school shooting by using a well-prepared lockdown.

Many American adults remember fire and tornado drills from their school days.  But students coming up today are also being prepared to jump into action when a gunman shows up at school.  

In this week's episode of Criminal, members of a school community in Hastings, Minnesota remember a close call a few years back. Criminal is a podcast recorded at WUNC and hosted by Phoebe Judge

Jake Bullington was an eighth grader at Hastings Middle School in 2010. During math class one day, someone over the loudspeaker said the school was going into lockdown.

"That's where I was like, 'Oh here we go. Another one of those darn state-regulated lockdown drills,'" Bullington said. "We would usually giggle and whisper to each other, and the teacher would be like, 'Hey shut up.' And then that would be the end of it."

Like any other drill, Bullington slid into the corner as his teacher turned off the lights and locked the door. The class sat and waited. 

And waited.

But it wasn't a drill. 

"Another eighth grade student had brought a gun into the school," Judge says. "He was entering classrooms and making threatening gestures to students and teachers."

The gunman walked into a science class with a loaded shotgun, but the teacher talked him down. He began roaming the halls, searching for unlocked classrooms. 

"The student was banging on the glass trying to break through, and he did this for a number of classrooms," Judge says.

Hastings Middle School was about as prepared as it could have been. After the Columbine shootings in 1999, schools began implementing lockdown drills using FBI-prepared manuals. 

"When I was in school, we had tornado drills and fire drills," Judge says. "I don't remember many lockdown drills, but that's changed and everything that happened this day in Hastings, Minn. worked."

After the incident, the teenager with the gun was arrested without firing a shot. He was charged as a juvenile but still faced five felony counts and ended up in a juvenile detention center.

Some students cried and some were picked up early, but few discussed the incident. Remarkably, no one was physically harmed that day, but there was a deeper emotional impact.

The principal recalled some students wanting to sleep in their parents' rooms or having a loud noise trigger the memory of the lockdown.

"Kind of thinking back on it now, it struck me to how quickly classes resumed and how quickly everyone just agreed, well that was crazy," Bullington said. "What’s the next chapter in math? I think a lot of it was willfully ignoring that that had just happened to us and a lot of repressed emotions and a lot of repressed memories."

Bullington is now a sophomore at Drake University and still worries about potential gunmen. 

"Every single classroom he walks into, he looks around and figures out how he would get out if a gunman walked in," Judge says.

You can hear the rest of the story today at the Criminal website, or by tuning in to WUNC on Sunday afternoon at 5:40 p.m.

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