Looking Back on the Lockdown

Philip Blumberg and Ryan Cole

At 1:25 p.m. on Thursday, February 10, senior Billy Baldwin was confused. As he walked toward the main entrance of our school, he noticed a large group of students standing by the doors. Baldwin was returning from a relaxing lunch in his car, but when he approached the crowd, he realized staff was not letting anyone into the building. 

“We waited there for five minutes or so, and then staff told us to go home,” Baldwin said.

As Baldwin walked away from the school, a police car sped past, sirens blaring.

On the other side of the building, senior Sofia Heller was trying to enter through the senior-lot doors. Most seniors know that is usually futile. But, this time, instead of being told to walk around to the front doors, she and her group of friends were hastily ushered in. 

“The people who conduct the COVID-testing ran to the door and told us to come inside. We quickly made it to the nearest room, right by Patriot Hall,” Heller said. 

Inside the school, senior class president Zach Levin was walking to the bathroom after sitting his backpack down in his English class. The hallways were crowded with students since there were still a few minutes remaining before the start of 6th period. 

Suddenly, he noticed distressed teachers waving their arms and screaming for students to get out of the hallway and into a classroom.

“I assumed it was a [lockdown] drill, so I didn’t really walk at a quick pace anywhere,” Levin said.

It was not a drill. Yorktown High School was on lockdown.

In the front office, a call had come in to the main line from someone claiming to be armed in a bathroom inside the building. Principal Kevin Clark quickly initiated lockdown protocols and called the police. 

“Once the police arrived, they took over the call and took control of the situation,” Clark said.

According to Clark, ten police units arrived at the scene. They were carrying heavy firearms and tactical gear, including rifles and shields. As they swept the school searching for any potential threat, their weapons were drawn.

“I saw the cops carrying rifles first on video and then in person. I was still locked down in my classroom when I saw the [student] videos, so they really scared me because I knew it wasn’t a drill,” freshman Holden Woods said.

“Every police officer is authorized to carry a firearm. If they qualify, they can carry what we would consider a long-gun or a shotgun or a rifle. In situations like this where there’s potentially a threat in the school, they would absolutely carry a long gun, shotgun or a rifle,” Arlington County Police Department Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent said.

Using a floor plan, police navigated the school. The person making the threat was still on the phone. Meanwhile, teachers had run through the emergency procedures. 

“I ran through the school protocol which we are given in our emergency handbook. We go into the hall, do a hall sweep and bring in all the kids or staff members that we can before locking the door, closing the blinds, turning off the lights and having students move to the area of the room that would be hardest to get to,” psychology teacher Kimberly Graver said.

Teachers also placed a green sign on their door. According to the Staff Emergency Handbook, “the green hangtag indicates there are no serious injuries in the classroom.” Physics and astronomy teacher Daniel Carroll questioned this guideline.                            

“If I put a tag on the door, everybody is going to know what that means. If there was somebody in the school that knows about the school, they would know that there are people in that room,” Carroll said.

Carroll’s main anxiety, however, stemmed from not knowing where many of his students were. Since the lockdown started during a passing period, not everyone was near or inside their 6th-period classroom.

“I did not know where 12 of my students were…. And I didn’t know how to find out where they were…. I went home that night not knowing if my students had been safe or not safe,” Carroll said.

Some were more safe than others. Freshman Lola Gomez was in the third floor bathroom with three other girls throughout the lockdown. 

“We thought it was a drill, so we all got in this one stall and were just talking. But one of the other girls’ teacher started messaging her through a student’s phone and was saying that it was not a drill and that we should get in stalls. It was really, really scary,” Gomez said.

Not knowing what to do, Gomez and her friends elected to make a break for it. 

“We ran together down the stairwell, down to the first floor. When we got there, there was an officer who told us to put our hands up. They had those big guns pointed at us and told us to drop our bags. They had us walk out with our hands up,” Gomez said.

There were many students like Gomez who were put in difficult situations outside of their classrooms or away from their teachers. Because the lockdown began during a passing period, the whole experience was more stressful for everyone involved. 

“I think teachers really care about their students, and not knowing where our students were or if they were safe caused a lot of anxiety for teachers. And I think probably for the students too, to be in a room with a teacher they didn’t know was probably hard,” Graver said.

Government and law teacher Paige Hamrick had numerous students she did not know in her classroom.

“I had some kids who had no idea who I was in [my room], and that had to be strange for them…. I had no idea who those kids were; I still don’t know their names,” Hamrick said.

Inside classrooms, students were having varying experiences. While some rooms had a relaxed atmosphere, others were a more stressful environment.

“There was a lot of noise around my room. I think part of that is because my classroom backs up to a bathroom, and when the police were, I assume, clearing the bathroom, there was a lot of banging and noise coming in from that. And we weren’t sure what was happening,” Graver said.

According to Clark, police targeted the specific area of the school in which the caller claimed to be hiding. It is clear that this area was a bathroom. It is unclear whether it was the bathroom next to Graver’s classroom on the third floor. Nevertheless, the noise scared the class.

“We instructed students to cover their heads because we weren’t sure what was happening,” Graver said.

After completing a sweep of the school, police began to evacuate certain classrooms. 

“The police finished the sweep of the building and didn’t find any threat and were able to verify with the person that it was a false call…. They were able to start clearing some areas after they verified that there was no threat,” Clark said.

“I was evacuated right around 2:15 [p.m.]. I was the first person out of the classroom, and when we made it outside, I didn’t see anyone else around,” senior Eddie Blumberg said.

Police had closed all nearby roads, creating a perimeter around the school. Blumberg and his class crossed Yorktown Boulevard and stood waiting for five minutes. They were then directed to walk to Greenbrier Park where they stood on the football field waiting for buses to take them to Knights of Columbus.

“That’s our protocol for an evacuation where the perimeter is closed. We stage at the field, bus to Knights of Columbus, and then, from there, reunification with parents [takes place],” Clark said.

Back inside the school, police were still on the phone with the individual claiming to be in the building. To be completely sure that he was not at Yorktown, they ran a test.

“The police asked if they could do a PA announcement to see if they could hear on their phone call [with the person making the threat] the announcement to verify that the person was not hiding somewhere in the building. They made the PA announcement, and couldn’t hear it on the phone call. So that, in addition to having swept the building, gave the confidence that the person was not here,” Clark said.

Two announcements were made by a police officer, both around 2:50 p.m.. The first was three taps followed by a period of silence followed by three more taps. The second was “today is Thursday, February 10, 2022.”

“After that announcement happened my teacher was like ‘well, that’s not good,’ and then everyone started freaking out,” freshman Harper Kois said.

“[Students] were trying to figure out if it was morse code when they were tapping on it, and I was like ‘no, that’s not morse code.’ The kids were like – ‘did they say [the date] because this is the day we’re going to die?’ It was very, very creepy,” Hamrick said.

“In looking back, that’s something that definitely could have been done better. That wasn’t a school decision; that wasn’t an APS (Arlington Public Schools) decision. I think somebody like me, that you all recognize, [saying] ‘hey, we’re continuing to search’ [would have been better.] An announcement that would have been useful and also serving the other purpose would have been less scary and maybe more helpful,” Clark said.

Although Blumberg’s room and a few other classrooms had been evacuated, most students were still inside to hear these announcements. As more people left the building, APS sent out a School Talk Message.

“Yorktown High School remains on lockdown and students are starting to be dismissed gradually. Parents wishing to pick up their students who attend Yorktown should report to Knights of Columbus located at 5115 Little Falls Road. Only one parent per student and please have ID ready. No injuries have been reported,” the message said.

This announcement led to confusion among parents and guardians attempting to pick up their kids. It was unclear as to what the procedure was supposed to be. According to Blumberg, early on parents were being asked to sign their kids out on sheets of paper. This was unnecessary. 

“The message [from APS] made it seem like I had to formally sign out the kid I was picking up and show ID, but in reality, all I had to do was stand there and wait for him to get off the bus. I still don’t know if that’s what was supposed to happen,” nanny Samantha Antes said.

“Initial communication from APS indicated that [you needed a guardian present to sign out], but that’s typically for elementary and middle [schools] where you have to have a hand off and verify that the parent picking up the student is the actual parent…. The requirement to have a parent come physically pick up the student is not something we do at the high school level,” Clark said.

Many of the students arriving at Knights of Columbus did not have their backpacks. During the evacuation, police instructed some students to leave their belongings in the school. Others were not given that direction. 

“Our officer was basically like, ‘if the backpack is on you, great. If not, leave it,’” Hamrick said.

“I have no idea why that would happen. Common sense says that we wouldn’t let anybody take any bags just because we’re clearing the school and we don’t know what people have in their bags or if anybody is involved,” Deputy Chief Vincent said.

The following day, Friday, February 11, students were given ten minutes before first period to retrieve their backpacks and any other items left behind. Clark also suggested that teachers postpone any tests, quizzes or projects scheduled for that day. 

“I really appreciate how all the teachers were a bit easier afterwards. They had some nice talks with students after the lockdown, eased up on their assignments a bit and eased everyone back into the normal school life,” Baldwin said.

Additional counselors from other APS schools and support staff from the school system’s central office were also present at the school on Friday. 

“I think that our guidance department is excellent and I think they tried to make announcements to let students know that they were there for support,” Graver said.

Administration also gave staff the opportunity to provide feedback on what the school could do better in the event of another lockdown.

“One thing I will give admin credit for is that they immediately asked for feedback and opened a Google Sheet. They had individual meetings during every lunch period that the teachers could give feedback during,” Graver said. 

Many teachers and students reported that they could not hear the original PA announcement and were not immediately aware that the building was on lockdown. As a result, some students and staff were unaware of the gravity of the situation. 

Another piece of feedback was that some classrooms did not have functional blinds. This prevented teachers from abiding by the Staff Emergency Handbook which states to “close all windows and blinds.” 

While some teachers were unable to close their blinds, others were not even able to lock doors. Substitute teachers, who are not given room keys, were forced to leave their rooms unlocked. The room next to Graver’s classroom had a substitute that day.

“In retrospect, one of the things that I regretted doing was not going and getting those kids, not going and herding all of them and the sub into my room,” Graver said.

Overall, however, students and staff were thankful for the quick response by the police and the efficacy of the lockdown procedures.

“Given the distinct possibility of what could have happened, the system worked like it is supposed to,” Hamrick said.

“I felt safe the entire time. I thought administration and the police did a good job,” freshman Mila Perez said.

“We want to emphasize that we’re super appreciative of what the police did. They really did a good job. They had a large amount of folks here who were able to quickly give us confidence that we were safe and that we could get out pretty quickly,” Clark said.

“The police department’s priority throughout this incident and any critical incident is always that our school community is safe, that being our staff, our kids, everybody involved. Sometimes I understand that some of the things we go through are hard for people to understand, but believe me when I say that our number one priority is to keep our kids and our staff safe,” Deputy Chief Vincent said.