Police make arrest following lockdown at Shenandoah Elementary

Shenandoah Elementary press conference_03_30_23
Page County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Antonio Fox, addresses a crowd of about 50 onlookers and press behind Shenandoah Elementary on Thursday afternoon after the school went on lockdown, later evacuated students and then closed at 12:30 p.m.

By Randy Arrington

SHENANDOAH, March 30 — George Thomas, who has lived in Shenandoah for just over two years, was working at Massanutten on Thursday morning when he learned that the elementary school where his two children were enrolled was in lockdown.

“We are notifying you of an ongoing situation at Shenandoah Elementary,” read a text alert issued by Page County Public Schools at 11:21 a.m. “Shenandoah Elementary School went into a school-wide lockdown at about 10:30 a.m. due to a report of a suspicious individual in the community. The Page County Sheriff’s Office and the Shenandoah Police Department are currently on site and conducting a full sweep of the area. We will remain in a lockdown until there is confirmation that all is clear from law enforcement.”

Thomas kept track of the events through text alerts from the school division and phone calls with his wife, who went down to a convenience store across the street from the school to see what was happening. She heard that there may have been a gun involved, and she was later told by police that there was simply “suspicious activity outside the building” but that the individual did not get inside the building. Authorities have yet to clear up those questions and many other details despite a press conference held behind the school on Thursday afternoon.

Not long before the lockdown, a citizen phoned 911 and reported “a male possibly with a gun” near the school, according to Page County Sheriff Chad Cubbage. The police response gave Thomas and his wife the biggest scare of the day.

“She told me the police were drawing their weapons and deploying toward the school from a nearby church…She was freaking out a little bit…so was I,” Thomas said as he broke down into tears. “It’s a very helpless feeling…my heart just goes out to others who weren’t okay when something like this happens.”

Thursday’s incident ended with no injuries, and no shots fired. What was believed to potentially be a holster carrying a firearm, ended up being a knife sheath and a knife.

Thomas Benjamin Loving, 46, was charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor for possession of a knife on school property. Sheriff Cubbage stated at Thursday afternoon’s press conference that “the investigation is ongoing and additional charges are pending.”

“Although there is no known or ongoing threat, there will be an additional law enforcement presence at all [Page County Public] schools tomorrow,” PCPS superintendent, Dr. Antonio Fox stated at the press conference. Shenandoah Elementary will be closed on Friday, March 31, but all staff must report at 9 a.m.

Soon after the 911 call was made and police began surrounding the area, a teacher within the elementary school hit the “emergency alert” on the school system’s new LifeSpot app, which offers real time communication during an “active threat” and was first implemented in November.

Police entered the school and cleared the hallways and perimeter. A room-by-room search was conducted and students were taken to the auditorium. Once everyone was accounted for, students were evacuated to nearby Fields United Methodist Church, where they could be picked up by parents. Students who couldn’t be picked up following the early 12:30 p.m. dismissal were held and sent home on their regular bus routes. All students were served lunch before being sent home. School counselors and other division staff were onsite to assist students and staff.

Dr. Fox noted that the school system’s preparation paid off in this instance and everyone involved reacted appropriately and worked together. She praised the division’s partnership with law enforcement, the staff’s response, the parent’s understanding and especially one pro-active resident who helped prevent a potential tragedy.

“To the community member who reported this…thank you for taking care of our students and staff,” the superintendent said.

Sheriff Cubbage also applauded everyone involved, including his own staff.

“The students and staff did a fantastic job,” he said. “I have mandated that all my officers receive active shooter training, and they performed with excellence.”

Following Thursday afternoon’s press conference in the parking lot behind Shenandoah Elementary, both school officials and law enforcement authorities refused to take questions from the public or the media. For many of the parents in the crowd, a lot of questions still remain.

“How did he get in the building? Who could have let him in?…especially after what just happened in Texas” Christy Moyer, a one-year resident of Shenandoah and the mother of a kindergarten student at the school, said following the press conference. She says her son is now frightened to return to school on Monday.

“This is my son’s first year of school, and he doesn’t want to go back to school because that ‘robber’s’ there…that’s what he called him…but he said his teacher kept him safe,” Moyer said. “When I first heard…my heart…I have anxiety…I was shaking so bad.”

“My friend saw 20 cops go by,” she continued. “We saw cops with big guns and we knew something was wrong.”

PVN has received unofficial and unverified reports that the School Resource Officer assigned to Shenandoah Elementary was sick on Thursday and did not report to work. No replacement was assigned to the school, which had no SRO on duty at the time of the incident.

Since no follow-up questions were allowed at Thursday’s press conference, that information could neither be confirmed nor denied.

However, law enforcement from at least a half dozen different agencies were quickly dispatched to the scene, including officers from all three town police departments, the sheriff’s office, state police and even rangers from Shenandoah National Park.

Thursday afternoon’s press conference at Shenandoah Elementary School

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