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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 07 2013

Police say West Fargo school threats not credible

WEST FARGO – Three threats phoned in to Freedom Elementary School in quick succession on Wednesday had “no credibility … at all,” West Fargo police Lt. Duane Sall said Thursday.

The calls said a male would possibly “shoot up the school,” Sall said.

The threats led to a lockdown at the school, with students being escorted to buses and those who normally walk home being picked up by family or friends at the school.

There was a stepped-up police presence at Freedom on Thursday, with several squad cars patrolling the area around the school and on the grounds starting about 6 a.m.

There was also an officer in the school, Principal Jeff Johnson said at a news conference at West Fargo School District’s Leidal Education Center.

There will be no officer there today, said Sall, who encouraged students and parents to resume normal activities.

“We feel that it’s safe for everyone to be there again,” he said.

Johnson said he and school staff were in the school commons Thursday, available for questions from parents and to reassure students as they arrived.

A police officer is not stationed at the school, unlike at the school district’s middle and high schools, which have full-time school resource officers. The elementary students regularly see officers in the building for drug and alcohol programs, district officials said.

“I think it gives the parents peace of mind as well as staff members,” Johnson said.

District spokeswoman Heather Konschak said the district would not comment on the particulars of the lockdown and referred all questions to the police.

Joan Houdek, Freedom’s school counselor, said she was the lone counselor on duty to help students and staff, but that it was quiet.

“There is a relative calmness about the place,” she said.

Houdek said parents can do several things to help their children better process the experience:

E Be present with them and listen. That may include letting them write down their feelings in journals.

• Don’t overtalk the situation in explaining what occurred.

• Reassure students that they are safe in their schools.

• Maintain a normal family routine.

Freedom Elementary opened last fall. It is south of Interstate 94 and about a half-mile west of Veterans Boulevard.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583