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Hostage incident turns out to be misunderstanding
Two schools locked down, SWAT called
For approximately one hour, two schools in West Porterville were on lockdown and residents advised to stay in their homes as Porterville Police Department dealt with what was originally reported as a possible hostage situation in the 1000 block of N. Elderwood Street — between Westfield Street and W. Porter Creek Road. But it was all a misunderstanding and no crime was committed, PPD said.
The lockdown of William Buckley Elementary and Burton Middle School raised a lot of concern among parents.
“Officers responded to a report of a possible hostage situation,” said Sgt. Mark Knox from the scene Friday morning. “Everyone in the home is unharmed and uninjured. We’re still in the preliminary stages of the investigation. No arrests have been made at this point.”
The incident, which began at approximately 9:20 a.m., and had numerous Porterville Police officers, the Porterville Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and Hostage Negotiators, a Command Post, and ambulances lined along N. Elderwood Street and W. Porter Creek Road, turned out to be a misunderstanding.
It all began with a call at approximately 8:32 a.m. Friday with Porterville Police officers dispatched to the home to check on the welfare of a 20-year-old woman who had been reported as being held against her will by a man.
“This information was received by a third party who apparently had communicated via text message with the 20-year-old female,” Knox said in a press release.
Officers at the site were unsuccessful in making contact with the woman.
“Because of the reports of the female being held against her will, which created a possible hostage-type circumstance, the Porterville Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and Hostage Negotiators (HNT) were called to the scene,” Knox said. “We had to treat it as a hostage situation until we knew otherwise.”
But as SWAT and HNT were formulating a plan, the woman exited the residence, unharmed. Soon after, the man also exited the residence.
Both were detained by officers to determine what crime, if any, had occurred, Knox said.
After speaking with all parties involved, Porterville Police determined no crime had occurred and the communication between the woman and the third party was misunderstood by the third party, who had initially notified the police department.
“It was simply a misunderstanding,” Knox said. “Everyone was released. There was no criminal activity.”
As the police department handled the situation, the two schools remained on lockdown and residents returning to the area were not allowed to return to their homes.
Jehl Galang, who lives across the street from the home, watched from the corner of N. Elderwood Street and W. Porter Creek Road.
“I saw several cops there this morning — in front and to the side of the house — and saw them walking around looking in about an hour ago. I’m curious on what is going on. I’ve never seen anything like this around here,” Galang said. “I had to leave to do something and now I can’t get back to my house.”
A few other residents returning to the area had also gathered at the corner.
At 10:19 a.m., the schools were unlocked and within five minutes, residents were allowed to return to their homes, paramedics and fire department cleared to leave and the road reopened.
The incident had numerous parents and other community members concerned and talking on the Recorder’s facebook page. Leighann Morris wrote that the school had put a call out to parents informing them of the lockdown.
“I have students there. I called the school and the children were never in danger. Just protocol,” Morris wrote.
Burton School Board member Jay Rice also posted a comment, saying he was at Burton Middle School when the lockdown occurred.
“The staff and Burton School District Resource Officer, Officer Rivera, did an outstanding job securing the schools and making sure the students and staff were safe. I want to thank the Porterville Police Department for doing what they do best. Protect and Serve,” Rice wrote.
Tracy Atchison wrote about being thankful for the lockdown protocol.
The lockdown procedure is something the school has been practicing, said Burton Middle School principal Michelle Pengilly.
Last year, the school practiced several times during lunch, brunch and during class.
“We’re very prepared. Today we were fortunate that the lockdown was during a class period,” Pengilly said. “The lockdown went very smoothly. We have a system that we use to alert our teachers and students, and then there’s an initial sweep of the campus to make sure everybody is safely in the places.”
Pengilly also said the campus resource officer, Officer Rivera, helped keep the situation calm.
“There was a lot of contact with local law enforcement and it was a well-maintained situation,” she said.
All students remained in class and teachers stayed in touch via computer.
“I think all of the practice and the thoroughness of what we’ve talked through with all our emergency plans really showed today because it was nice to see how smooth it ran and how quiet it was on campus,” Pengilly said. “We’re really lucky and were just thankful for great law enforcement, the great response from our teachers and from our local campus officer. Officer Rivera did a great job.”
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @ Avila_recorder.