Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts met with students at KIPP charter schools Friday to ease their fears, a day after a visiting college student's tripod was mistaken for a gun, setting off an hours-long lockdown.
"I have a young child who goes to school not far from here," Rawlings-Blake said afterward. "I live not too far from here, so this was something that was very personal. I'm just so proud of the students, the teachers, the administrators and all the first responders who did everything right."
As the mayor and police commissioner attempted to reassure KIPP students, more details about what triggered a massive tactical and active-shooter response from Baltimore police surfaced.
About 9 a.m., two girls at the school saw a college student with a camera tripod hanging from a sling and thought it was a gun, Batts said Friday. The girls reported it to faculty, which triggered the lockdown of the campus in the 4700 block of Greenspring Ave. and at an adjacent school.
School resource officers rolled into action, followed by city police minutes later, Batts said. For several hours, students and teachers hid in classrooms until tactical teams came through and cleared room after room, sending the children on buses to Polytechnic Institute to be reunited with parents.
After an investigation, police learned the suspected gun was in fact a tripod that a University of Maryland journalism student had brought onto campus. The student had been there the day before filming a feature story for a college class. He had received permission from the school system and principal to be on campus and had checked in at the front desk Thursday morning.
Batts said the student did nothing wrong but added that the police response was justified in an era of frequent school shootings. Batts said he saw the tripod and understood how it could be mistaken for a weapon.
"I was extremely proud of the system," said Batts, who rushed Thursday from a doctor's physical exam to the school. "Basically, we shut the city down to keep this school safe."
He said he would block off streets and sections of the city again if a school was threatened.
Many parents said they were kept out of the loop Thursday and were not given enough updates or even an initial notification of the scare. Rawlings-Blake said she empathized with them.
"When little children are involved, you're anxious, you're angry, you're frustrated, and I get it," she said. "But the worst thing to do is rush to get out the wrong information."
Among the responders on the scene was Detective Sgt. Jarron L. Jackson, a Baltimore police public information officer whose son was inside the school during the lockdown. Batts said Jackson continued to do his job though the commissioner told him it was OK to shift into "parent mode." Jackson said he tried to stay as informed as anyone about the situation while putting out information to help other parents.
Both Rawlings-Blake and Batts said the incident will be studied to prepare for future "active-shooter" situations. Police trained last month on such a scenario, Batts said, and they will train again next month with the department's entire command staff participating.
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