Principal Bill Armitage

Armed mental escapee causes district’s first Code Red lockdown

March 18, 2010 // 0 Comments

It is a parent’s worst nightmare. Your child is at recess at their elementary school when an armed mental patient escapes authorities within walking distance of the playground. This scenario played out at Belmont Elementary on Wednesday, March 10. For the first time in district history, a Code Red emergency procedure was called, and Rockford proved prepared for the emergency. At approximately 2 p.m. the Kent County Sheriff’s office received a mental pick up order for a 22-year-old Grand Rapids resident. Deputies received a tip that the individual was at a friend’s house in the Belmont area, a residence to the north of Belmont Elementary. When Deputies arrived at the residence, he fled out a back window. The individual was reportedly armed with a knife. According to Rockford Public Schools head of security, Charlie Brown, within two minutes of the incident he was notified. Half of Belmont’s students were outdoors on recess on the playground. Within one minute more, said Belmont Principal Bill Armitage, the students and staff were in full lockdown in classrooms and offices. This was a Code Red procedure that Rockford designed and implemented half a dozen years ago after one of the first nationally-publicized school shootings. The then-director of security for RPS, Bob Goethal, a former police officer, developed a response procedure in cases where students and staff may be threatened. “We developed this before Columbine,” said Rockford’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Michael Shibler. He said at that time Rockford had one security officer at the high school. “I felt we could do a better job ensuring a safe environment for our students and staff,” he said. He said Goethal was a captain with the Grand Rapids Police Department who was retiring. Shibler approached him and asked if he was interested in developing a procedure to respond to a Columbine-type situation. Goethal came up with the Code Red process and during Wednesday’s emergency it worked perfectly. “Practice makes perfect,” said Brown, who has been head of security at RPS since Goethal retired. He said all schools in the district practice Code Red twice yearly, in addition to by-law drills for fires and tornados. Rockford’s Code Red calls for all students and staff to be in locked rooms with shades drawn and […]