Authorities: Had lumber labelled 'high-powered rifle'
By Joe Beck
In a disturbing echo of the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last week, a 33-year-old Strasburg man was arrested at Sandy Hook Elementary School Wednesday after entering the building with what authorities said was a 2x4 board bearing the words "high-powered rifle."
Authorities were holding Christopher Gerrit Johnson, of 333 Junction Road, at the Shenandoah County Jail Wednesday as they continued their investigation into the incident.
Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office Maj. Scott Proctor said no one was injured and no weapons were found on Johnson. Johnson is charged with disorderly conduct and is being held without bond, Proctor said.
"We don't know his intentions, but it did seem to be related to bringing awareness to school safety," Proctor said. "That's going to be confirmed through the course of the investigation."
Authorities said school staff confronted the suspect and a school resource officer detained him before other law enforcement officials arrived. Proctor warned anyone entering a school to avoid behavior that, intentionally or unintentionally, could alarm students and educators.
"No one should enter school property and cause disruption or fear or display any kind of behavior that could be interpreted as threatening," Proctor said.
Sandy Hook Elementary School bears the same name as the school in Newtown, Conn. where 26 students and educators died Friday in a mass shooting.
Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent B. Keith Rowland said Johnson entered the building through an unlocked front door and went straight to the front office where a receptionist was the first person to encounter him.
"The great news is that no students interacted with this guy," Rowland said.
He said Principal Melissa L. Foltz "immediately got him into her office and closed the door."
Rowland said Foltz "had a conversation with Johnson" but declined to comment on the details of their conversation.
Rowland said the school remained open throughout the day.
"No announcements were made in school as to what was going on or what happened," Rowland said, adding that administrators saw "no need to upset people."
Rowland said all doors at the school are locked during the school day, except the front door through which Johnson entered.
"I don't think you can go to any school in this area and not find the front door unlocked," Rowland said.
Rowland said unlocked doors are one of many safety issues that he expects to be discussed in the aftermath of the incident. He said plans are forming to reconvene the school system's safety committee and meet with parents on the subject of school security.
Foltz sent a brief letter home with students at the end of the school day to inform their families of the incident.
The letter reads in part: "We had a citizen who became disorderly. We contacted local law enforcement for assistance. The citizen was arrested and charges were made. This citizen was contained in the main office at all times."
The incident came two days after extra police were assigned to Shenandoah County public schools in response to the Newtown massacre. Rowland said Monday the extra officers would be in place for this week as a way of assuring parents and students about the safety of the schools.
Proctor said Sandy Hook normally shares a school resource officer with Signal Knob Middle School a short distance down the road.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org