I'm sitting in a meeting when I get the first text message from my 7th grade son: “We’re on lockdown. I’m okay. I’m with a teacher in the classroom.”
I work in the Office of Communications for Hillsborough County Public Schools.
But I'm a parent first.
I immediately leave my meeting and head toward the Communications office.
Tanya Arja, our Media Outreach Manager, is looking for me. Her first words are “don’t panic.”
She proceeds to tell me Barrington Middle School in Lithia, my son’s school, is on lockdown.
It’s a scary word.
Fortunately, there aren’t many lockdowns in our district. A lockdown means there is an active threat or emergency on campus.
Tanya has two phones up to her ears—on one phone is John Newman, our Chief of Security and Emergency Management. On the other is Superintendent Jeff Eakins.
Tanya puts down the phones, grabs her car keys and computer, and says she’s heading to Barrington. I’m shaking like a leaf… caught between doing my job and being a mom.
I get in the car with her.
The ride to Barrington is a bit of a mess. I’m texting with my son and telling him to listen to his teacher, stay down and be safe. I’m helping our team back at our district office determine the right details for ParentLink messages to our families. Tanya is on the phone with Superintendent Eakins, Chief Newman and every television station in the Tampa Bay area.
When we get to Barrington, deputies are swarming the school. Both Barrington and the connecting elementary school, Stowers Elementary, have been thoroughly searched and there is no active threat on either campus.
The school has gone from lockdown to lockout—which means kids can sit in their seats but there’s no movement in the hallways—and now it’s in controlled release, where access to campus is tightly restricted.
There are parents lined up outside Barrington, in tears, waiting to be reunited with their children.
I text my son, “Are you okay?”
He replies, “Yes mom, it’s over."
Now I can focus fully on my job.
Tanya rushes off to work with the media. The principal of Barrington, Amy Rappleyea, is comforting parents and making sure they are able to get their kids.
I make myself useful by instructing parents to text their children and inform them they’re being picked up. From there, the students head to the front office, sign out and are then reunited with their parents.
All the while, deputies are still swarming the school. The threat is over but the investigation remains.
In his press conference a short time later, Sheriff Chad Chronister would refer to what happened at Barrington as a “nightmare.” He’s not wrong. As a mom, I never want to receive any sort of message like that from my son ever again.
However, the way the staff at Barrington and Stowers, our district's security team and the sheriff’s office worked together was exceptional.
I had no doubt my son’s teacher was keeping him safe while the deputies did their jobs.
Ms. Rappleyea was hugging parents and students and offering them words of encouragement and praise.
The front office staff ran like clockwork, making sure students were signing out and heading right into the arms of their parents.
In the hours that followed, detectives completed their investigation. They say a student at Barrington stole another student’s phone and made a hoax phone call to 911, claiming someone had a weapon on campus.
That student is now facing serious charges.
I hope parents take this opportunity to speak to their children. What happened at Barrington may have started as a prank, but it resulted in hundreds of students and parents living out some of the scariest moments of their lives.
It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. And it can follow you for the rest of your life.