Imagine you’re a parent driving up to your child’s elementary school and seeing it swarming with police cars. That was the scene this morning for moms and dads dropping off their kids at Venable Elementary School after a school employee spotted a man walking down Gordon Avenue with what appeared to be a shotgun.
Charlottesville Police got the call around 7:38am, immediately set up a perimeter and searched the school, nearby Lugo-McGinness Academy and the surrounding neighborhood, according to a release.
Alex Kent lives directly across the street from the school playground and he could hear police sirens as he was waking up. “About 20 feet away I could see a police officer with what was clearly an AR-15-style rifle,” he says. “It was a pretty surprising sight.”
He could see a second officer on the far side of the playground, also with a rifle, but saw nothing that looked like an active threat. “The officers were allowing people to walk by on the sidewalk and traffic was still moving as usual on 14th Street,” he says.
For Lindsay Neal, a police car went racing by her at the light at 14th Street and Grady Avenue as she headed to drop off her 6-year-old daughter, Ellie, a kindergartener at Venable. At the school, a teacher opened the car door and said, “Everything’s okay. We’re getting the kids in the classroom,” says Neal.
“I’m freaked out,” she says. “I kept seeing my daughter walking up the sidewalk into the school.” And she overheard a teacher say, “Are we on lockdown?”
Says Neal, “I didn’t know what to do.” She called her husband and circled around the block. The scene was chaotic, and she says she didn’t want to contribute to the confusion. Then she saw a cop near the parking lot in back of the school with a large rifle.
“That’s when I called my husband crying on the phone, saying, ‘It’s real,'” she says. She pulled over and called the school. After being put on hold, she talked to a counselor who was very reassuring. “He said, ‘This is very precautionary. There’s a police presence inside and out.'”
Neal says she felt confident in the staff at Venable. “I trust [Principal] Erin Kershner,” she says. “I trust her wholeheartedly.”
She says the school called her twice before noon with general updates.
Police say they’ll continue patrols around Venable and around other city schools.
Neal still wants to know about the man with the gun. “That’s so scary to me,” she says. “I had to really fight my instinct to go get my daughter.”
*The article’s original title was changed at 1:52pm March 30.