Lyndonville Police Chief Jack Harris is praising the response of Lyndon Institute officials and law enforcement for their response to yesterday’s report of a suspicious and possibly armed person on campus.

Police were dispatched at approximately 11:40 a.m. Tuesday after receiving a 911 report from a concerned citizen who was driving by the school about a male subject walking on College Road toward Lyndon Institute carrying what was described as a “long gun” and turning into the Lyndon Institute parking lot.

Harris responded immediately and while en-route to the scene made contact with the Lyndon Institute administration to inform them of the threat and initiate a lockdown. Units from Lyndonville Police, Vermont State Police and the Caledonia County Sheriff’s Department arrived on campus and began to search the buildings, grounds, parked cars and even the surrounding woods for the suspicious person.

Police said that as the main building was being searched a student was located matching the description given by the 911 caller and that the item described as a “long gun” was actually a “long umbrella.”

The lockdown was then lifted. No actual firearms were involved or located at the school.

Harris said that in a situation like that it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.

“Everyone from the (911 caller) to LI staff to law enforcement did exactly what needed to be done,” said Harris on Tuesday afternoon. “I would rather follow the training and find out we located an umbrella then to take short cuts and regret it later.”

The lockdown interrupted the first day of school at Lyndon Institute. Head of School Twila Perry said it was the first real lockdown in LI history.

“Our teachers and staff did a remarkable job of getting our kids into a safe place and locked it down very quickly - probably within two minutes the school was secured,” said Perry.

Harris said he’s heard some criticism of LI’s response to the incident but says the system worked as it should have.

“People do not understand how quickly this unfolded and they should be damn proud of LI for putting child safety first,” said Harris. “They are now getting backlash over this incident that is uncalled for because in less then ten minutes from me calling lockdown every staff and student was safe.”

The high school sent out a Tweet to the LI community announcing the lockdown at about 11:50 a.m. and advised parents and guardians to not come to campus. School officials say that as the time dragged on and it became clear it was not a routine drill the staff let students contact their families via text messages to tell them they were safe.

As for the student who was carrying the umbrella mistaken for a weapon Perry said he was “surprised, and a little embarrassed.”

“I would offer publicly my apologies to his parents and to him,” said Perry. “It is a frightening thing to be in lockdown and to know that you’re the impetus for it.”

Perry said the students responded well to the lockdown by pulling classroom doors shut, barricaded them and moved to a corner of the room in a huddle.

“The kids knew what to do,” Perry said. “This was as real as it gets without a bad outcome. None of us would ever want anything to happen but given the circumstances as they unfolded it was a great way for us to learn what our strengths are and where our holes were. When the police came through, people had their doors locked, shades down, kids were quiet.”

Perry said some parents did show up at the school despite the warning to stay away which she said was “dangerous in the event there was an actual incident.”

Perry said the school will be adding a page to its website to advise people what to do if there is a future lockdown emergency so the communications plan is clear.

“Our message to parents is when you just show up you put yourself in a dangerous situation because you don’t know what you’re driving into,” said Perry.

Perry also expressed regret for those students who were traumatized by the event and said, “I’m sorry it happened on the first day of school. I wouldn’t wish this on our student body for anything. But people responded appropriately and it was a good drill.”

Reporter Amy Ash Nixon contributed to this report.

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