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Waco High hoax response effective, reunification could improve, officials say

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Law enforcement officials guard the perimeter of Waco High Tuesday after a false report of a shooting. Local leaders Wednesday praised the response and said they are reviewing it to take in any lessons that can be learned.

The multiagency response to Tuesday’s active shooter hoax at Waco High School shows that active threat training works, officials said Wednesday.

A phone call went to the Waco police dispatch center Tuesday afternoon reporting an active shooter and hurt students at Waco High School, Waco police spokesperson Cierra Shipley said. Many police agencies from across McLennan County responded according to Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training and quickly cleared buildings and classrooms of the campus, determining there was no credible threat.

A similar situation played out in several other Texas cities, with hoaxes against schools in Houston, Dallas, Austin and Whitney.

“I had 10 to 15 minutes of terror, just like everyone else, but the citywide response was unbelievably effective,” Waco ISD Trustee and Waco High parent Angelo Ochoa said by phone Wednesday.

Ochoa said he heard about the situation shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday and went straight to the Base at Extraco Events Center.

“When I got there I started texting my kids, and we were scared,” he said.

Soon after that he found a law enforcement officer who told him about the response and that police were clearing and securing the campus and had found no credible threat.

Ochoa said he thought every available police officer, constable, rescue squad member and emergency medical technician made their way quickly to Waco High.

“I have friends who are doctors, and they told me last night that (Baylor Scott & White) Hillcrest hospital had ER doctors scrubbed and ready to treat patients,” Ochoa said. “I hate that this happened. I’m overjoyed that it was a hoax, but the citywide response was so good to see.”

Officials in Waco Independent School District, Waco Police Department and Waco ISD Police Department all carried out reviews of their respective responses to the Waco High incident Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

Waco ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon said the reunification process for parents and students could be improved.

The reunification process took place at the Base, where officials had directed families to go, through text messages and phone calls and through in-person instructions in the area immediately around the school. Many parents who gathered at the Base as the campus was being cleared expressed frustration with a lack of clarity on the status of the situation. Some believed their children were at the Base waiting to be picked up when they were actually still under lockdown at the school.

Kincannon also said she was proud of how well her administrators and teachers got their building secured.

Waco ISD Police Chief David Williams and Superintendent Susan Kincannon talk about what they saw Tuesday at Waco High School after an active shooting was reported and talk about the district's response. School officials soon reported the situation was the result of a hoax. Read more at wacotrib.com.

“I want to commend Chief Williams for his leadership and all the local law enforcement who responded,” Kincannon said in a Wednesday interview.

From her point of view, the first responders did a tremendous job, Kincannon said.

“Teachers this morning said they felt very impressed with law enforcement’s response yesterday and feel confident in their ability to manage future events, should they happen,” Kincannon said.

Waco police spokesperson Cierra Shipley said by phone Wednesday that every available police officer did go to Waco High on Tuesday afternoon to help with clearing the campus.

“Supervisors called in the next shift early for their duties, so no part of the city was without police protection if needed,” Shipley said.

Waco ISD Police Chief David Williams said in Wednesday interview that all the peace officers who arrived at Waco High followed the protocols taught in the ALERRT training. They formed up into teams under his leadership and began to clear the campus building by building and room by room.

“You can’t do a job halfway,” Williams said.

Even though the teams did not smell gun powder, hear firearms discharging or see injured students, they would not know the campus was safe until they had cleared and secured every room in every building.

Shipley likewise said her department treats every call that comes in as real.

“Any call is taken seriously, until officers get on scene and determine otherwise,” she said.

Williams and Shipley both said ALERRT training and training with other agencies made the response at Waco High go smoothly.

Waco Police Chief Sheryl Victorian is out of town for the rest of the week and unable to comment, Shipley said.

In at least four other Texas cities, similar situations played out Tuesday afternoon, with calls going to municipal police departments warning of shooters in high schools in Houston, Dallas and Pflugerville ISDs, officials said. The elementary school in Whitney received a threat, according to a statement from Police Chief Hugh Corbin.

In all of these cities, a variety of law enforcement agencies cooperated in responding to the phoned warnings. None of the agencies found a credible threat in or near any of the threatened schools.

ABC 13 in Houston reported Wednesday morning that one of their sources claimed the same phone number called in more than one of Tuesday’s false reports of school shooters.

Police department spokespeople in Waco, Dallas and Houston all said the origin of the call that started the situation in each jurisdiction was “under investigation.” But none would release the number.

Austin Police Department did not respond by Wednesday evening to the Tribune-Herald’s email question about the origin of the call about Connally High School in Pflugerville ISD.

Shipley said that in Waco the location of the caller falsely reporting the shooting is part of the investigation.

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Christopher De Los Santos is a U.S. Army veteran with a master’s degree in journalism from The University of Texas. He previously worked at the Williamson County Sun in Georgetown.

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