Locked Down

Highland Park High School locks down due to potential gun threat nine months after mass shooting

Highland Park parents and students hug after the lockdown finished. The school was under lockdown for 90 minutes before police verified the gun threat had been removed.

When senior Alex Bradshaw arrived at Highland Park High School on Tuesday, April 4, students taking part in organizations like March For Our Lives and Students Demand Action were protesting the recent school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee that claimed six lives. As Bradshaw entered his second period English class, the sounds of gun control activists echoed outside the school until the intercom rang: “Attention all students and staff, this is a lockdown.” Minutes later, the hallways laid empty, the classroom blinds lowered, and as students huddled in the corners of classrooms, the wailing of police sirens loomed closer. 

Nine months after the mass shooting at the July 4 Independence Parade, Highland Park High School went on a hard lockdown for 90 minutes due to the presence of guns on campus. The police took five students into custody for potentially possessing a gun. Heavy police presence surrounded the school throughout the day.

The Highland Park shooting at the July 4th Parade claimed 7 people and injured 48 more. Following the shooting, the town came together to create memorials for those who lost their lives.

According to Education Week, there have been 14 school shootings this year with 14 people injured, six students killed and four school employees killed, with the recent gun threat possibly adding to the statistics. The threat arose when hours after Bradshaw arrived on campus, the chants for reform would be drained out by the heartbeats of his teachers, quiet sobs of his classmates and the ever-growing silence as they waited for rescue. 

“We barricaded the doors, shut off the lights and did everything we’ve been taught to do since pre-school,” Bradshaw said. “But when the announcements came in telling us that this was a hard lockdown, everything became real.”

For students on the other side of the school, like Highland Park freshman Yahlee Lavi, the reality of the lockdown didn’t set in, with many students thinking it was a planned drill. But with incoming news reports pinging on students’ phones, fear loomed in the minds of students and teachers alike. 

“When the lockdown started, no one in my class knew what was happening,” Lavi said. “But as hours went by, there was a growing feeling of nervousness in everyone, from my teacher to my classmates, which only got worse once we saw the news announcements.”

At 12:25 p.m, law enforcement entered the building with protective gear and heavy weaponry in order to evacuate the building as quickly as possible. The school dismissed the students early, and history teacher Nathan Sweeney was quick to offer resources and support for any students who needed it. 

“Teachers spend years practicing the same procedures and protocols in the event something like this happens,” Sweeney said. “We have to be responsible enough to keep our cool and help our students through it.”

For some students, they felt like teachers played critical roles in ensuring that classrooms stayed calm throughout the experience. For Lavi, he felt like his teacher prioritized the students’ safety, which made him feel more comfortable within the classroom. 

“Seeing my teacher be calm and collected made all of us feel a lot less scared, which we definitely needed at the time,” Lavi said. “After the lockdown was over, I made sure to thank him before I left.” 

As Highland Park students gathered outside waiting to be reunited with their parents, teachers like Sweeney stayed to make sure every student made it home safe. But despite the fact that he ended up feeling closer to his class, the incident scared him as well. 

“As a teacher, you expect to be the authority, but throughout the lockdown, there were numerous times when I was uncertain and uncomfortable with the situation,” Sweeney said. “Seeing a [classroom] be turned into a hideout shook me up a little bit.”

Despite the incident’s impact on others, Bradshaw did not feel scared to go back to school the next day, because of how well law enforcement responded and handled the situation. Instead, it made him more appreciative of his community and the change they had undergone in a few short months. 

“I definitely think Highland Park High School and the Highland Park Police Department did an excellent job at easing the fears [many] people had, showing us that the police are here to protect us and not to wait and watch,” Bradshaw said. “I feel like it says a lot about how far our community— even outside Highland Park—has gone, undergoing such a tragedy under a year ago, and really changing our ways for the better.”