Jogger Causes Lockdown at School in Franconia

Students told faculty they had seen an armed man in a ski mask.

A man who was out jogging is believed to have been the cause of a lockdown at West Broad Street Elementary School in Franconia on Thursday afternoon, police said.

The school was placed on lockdown at about 1:40 p.m. after three fourth-grade students on the school's playground reported seeing a man in a black sweater and black-hooded mask with a gun along a nearby tree line.

Franconia Township Police Chief Joseph Kozeniewski said authorities were "confident" that the children had mistaken the unidentified jogger for the armed person.

"We are not sure where [the children] came up with the idea of a man carrying a gun," Kozeniewski said.

The neighborhoods and streets adjacent to the 530 student, K-5 school were cordoned off as North Penn Tactical Response units swarmed into the area. The school's principal sent an email notification to parents informing them of the lockdown.

While searching nearby neighborhoods, police found a black sweatshirt hanging on a shrubbery outside a home. The sweatshirt was associated with the man described by students.

"We learned that there was a man returning from jogging on a trail not too far from the school. He said he was in the area at that time," Kozeniewski said.

They knocked on the door of the home and interviewed the sweatshirt's owner, who was described as "very, very cooperative." The man had returned from his jog and left the sweatshirt outside.

"Putting two and two together, we came up with the conclusion" that the jogger was the cause of the alarm, Kozeniewski said.

Kozeniewski said the students did the proper thing.

"They immediately notified the staff and the principal of the school. Upon quickly assessing the situation, they quickly put the school in lockdown and notified Franconia Township Police," Kozeniewski said. 

He said "within minutes" numerous officers from Franconia Township Police and neighborhood departments responded with the suspicion that there was an armed person within proximity of West Broad Street Elementary. 

"During the entire episode, the school was on lockdown. We had officers inside that building, and the children did a wonderful job, as well as the teachers and staff, in keeping the school secure so that no one was coming in or going out," Kozeniewski said.  

He said the lockdown was "very precise." Everyone was safe and no one was hurt, he said.

"I want to praise these three young people for doing the right thing. They weren’t sure. They said something didn’t look right. They did the right thing for reporting it immediately to teachers," he said.

Kozeniewski said it was a "good wakeup call" for law enforcement. 

"As far as the police, EMS and ambulance response, it was a good learning process that, fortunately, turned out very, very well, from something that, from the initial outset, could have been something that would have not been a good thing," he said.

"This gave us a good assessment of  how quick our response is, and how quick we can get a tactical team formed," Kozeniewski said. "These are all things in our breakout sessions that we need to look at: How good was this? and Where need to improve? Overall, the response and cooperation was top notch."

North Penn Tactical Response Team was assisted by Franconia Township Police, Souderton Police, Perseverance Fire Co. Fire Police, and canine units from Upper Merion Township, Plymouth Township and Whitemarsh Township.

Kozeniewski likened Thursday's event to a drill without the drill.

"One of the downsides of having practice where everybody knows it is not for real is this could be for real," he said. "All the way through, we had the impression that this may be a real thing here and we have to go by the book and work hard on this. This is not one where it's an exercise."

The school's dismissal was delayed by 20 minutes, until 3:40 p.m. The investigation ended around 3:30 p.m.

Souderton Area School District Superintendent Fred Johnson said the district will also debrief and look at its procedures. School district procedures and policies were rewritten about two years ago by Assistant Superintendent Frank Gallagher, Johnson said.

"We'll see what went well, what didn't go as well as it should. We will do a similar process at the district," he said.

Johnson said the parents, teachers and administrators of Souderton Area School District live with the notion daily that something tragic could happen in the district.

"We worry about buses and transportation every day. We make our plans, but one of the things is, we are always aware that something like this could happen," he said, referencing incidents like Sandy Hook. "We have to set that aside so we can function, but it never ever leasve our mind that something like this could occur."

Johnson said parents, and teachers, will be the frontline individuals to address Thursday's issue with students. He said resources beyond teachers talking to students will be available. 

"It's always with us," Johnson reiterated. "It never leaves us." 

Earlier story and updates below.

Update 3:10 p.m.: A growing number of parents have gathered outside the police cordon to pick up their children. School buses are expected to arrive at the school for dismissal on schedule.

One parent, Maureen Dennis, of Souderton, thought the school district responded well to the event.

"I think in light of recent events, it helped things," she said. "They take it more seriously."

Dennis theorized that maybe the children mistook the suspect for an elderly individual from Lion's Gate who wasn't of his or her right mind.

"It's more annoying than scary," Dennis said. "I just want to get my kids out."

Souderton Police Chief James Leary said he believed the report of the armed subject was unfounded and that authorities at the scene are beginning to demobilize.

Update 2:40 p.m.: Souderton Area School District superintendent Fred Johnson said that a student on the playground at recess reported seeing an individual wearing a ski mask and holding a gun.

"There is nothing now to substantiate the student's claim," Johnson said. "Nobody is in harm's way."

Johnson said it was "nice to know that our first responders are so quick and dedicated to the task."

The K-5 school has about 530 students.

Earlier story below.

A police tactical team is staging near West Broad Street Elementary School in Franconia following a report of an armed subject in the vicinity of the school, according to the Breaking News Network.

In an email to parents, school principal Marianne Boyd said the school had been placed on lockdown at about 1:40 p.m. in response to a "suspicious individual" who "was observed at a distance from the playground."

Police had taken charge of the search for the individual, Boyd said. Students and faculty were awaiting an "all clear" notification from the police, and a normal dismissal was expected. 

The North Penn Tactical Response Unit is at the scene and is said to be searching a wooded area near the school.

West Broad Street is closed between Cowpath Road and Hunsberger Lane.

A reporter has arrived at the scene and is gathering additional information.

This is a developing story.

Brittany Tressler (Editor) January 10, 2013 at 07:31 PM
Not sure which Facebook post you saw....the shooter is NOT in the school, per our reports.
Indian Valley Patcher January 10, 2013 at 07:50 PM
There is a school called Franconia School in that district. This has caused great concern for parents of children in that school that saw the alert, but couldn't access the information. Is there a reason why you couldn't say the school in the alert?
Otis January 10, 2013 at 07:56 PM
There probably never was a "shooter"....
StGabes January 10, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Yes My kids go to Franconia so next time please get it right.....
Steven Long January 10, 2013 at 08:51 PM
Oh, StGabes ... GET IT RIGHT ... only because of you? How ignorant of you!
lilly January 10, 2013 at 09:01 PM
It's an easy mixup.
lilly January 10, 2013 at 09:02 PM
Oh my goodness they said a school IN franconia...so calm down and read more into what they say. If your children were in any danger you would've gotten the email from Mrs. Boyd. You should be thankful that we are able to get this info so quickly!
bryan January 10, 2013 at 09:05 PM
West Broad is in Franconia township...which is why they said FRANCONIA SCHOOL LOCKDOWN. So next time just read more and you'll understand:)
debbra schwartz January 10, 2013 at 10:12 PM
This all is very scary and very sad my heart breaks everytime I hear something like this what happened to our society
Indian Valley Patcher January 10, 2013 at 10:15 PM
If you read the ticker at the top of the page. It still says "Lockdown AT Franconia School" as of 5:00. Address of West Broad Street is in Souderton (Franconia Township). Some people couldn't read further if alert came up on the phone and couldn't be accessed. I am sure you can imagine why the concern. It was just a commentary on importance of accurate reporting when it is this simple. Great to get such fast news, but not so great if it causes unnecessary concern. Actually, not getting alerts from the school district was oddly calming. I trusted that we would have been informed in a timely manner if something was truly wrong. Especially by the principal at the school. She is excellent.
David Powell (Editor) January 10, 2013 at 10:38 PM
I was the author of the original "Lockdown at Franconia School" headline. As some readers correctly inferred, I intended to communicate that the lockdown was taking place at a school in Franconia. Another member of our editorial team, Brittany Tressler, once attended West Broad Elementary and quickly realized the potential for confusion. The headline was changed within five minutes of the initial post. I sincerely apologize for any unnecessary concern the original headline may have caused!
FarmVille January 10, 2013 at 10:44 PM
I never received an email and my disabled son attends West Broad, my mother who lives 45-50 minutes away heard about it and told me, I was out of my mind until several of my friends who are cops told me everything was ok, but I still didn't relax until my son was in my arms safe and sound! I applaud Franconia, Souderton & North Penn TACT Team for a job well done!!!!!!!
StGabes January 10, 2013 at 10:46 PM
Actually you should know the facts before you start in on people, I get email alerts and it said "LOCKDOWN AT FRANCONIA SCHOOL" there is a Franconia school on 113.... So next time you people should keep your damn opinions to yourself... Know the facts.....
StGabes January 10, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Actually you should know the facts before you start in on people, I get email alerts and it said "LOCKDOWN AT FRANCONIA SCHOOL" there is a Franconia school on 113.... So next time you people should keep your damn opinions to yourself... Know the facts.....
StGabes January 10, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Actually you should know the facts before you start in on people, I get email alerts and it said "LOCKDOWN AT FRANCONIA SCHOOL" there is a Franconia school on 113.... So next time you people should keep your damn opinions to yourself... Know the facts.....
StGabes January 10, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Actually you should know the facts before you start in on people, I get email alerts and it said "LOCKDOWN AT FRANCONIA SCHOOL" there is a Franconia school on 113.... So next time you people should keep your damn opinions to yourself... Know the facts.....
Clark January 10, 2013 at 10:59 PM
my goodness, no need to get so fired up! It was a mistake, (people who aren't from this area wouldn't realize there's a school in the same district called franconia) move on and get over it. Also, there's no need to post the same comment 4 times..you look silly.
Indian Valley Patcher January 11, 2013 at 12:12 AM
Thanks for the apology.
Jamie Berkheimer January 11, 2013 at 02:31 AM
I have a daughter at west broad and Im not pleased. That man could very well not be who the children saw. they were fourth graders and they are not stupid or blind to what they see. I have 2 nieces in 4th grade. Just because he was very cooperative doesn't mean he wasn't armed at the time or wearing a mask. or if was even him. And u are willing to be your childs life on "confidence" instead of them being absolutely 100% sure? What is their confidence is wrong and this man returns to the school after things settle down?
missdirection1111 January 11, 2013 at 03:19 AM
Jamie makes a very interesting point. I also was wondering why the sweatshirt was left outside; who does that after a run? Just strange...I'd keep an eye on this guy. What if he did have a gun? I was the victim of a crime years ago-the police department (not Souderton) messed up EVERY piece of evidence there was. Their response to that was-well, most crimes & criminals ate solved & found by dumb luck. The detective that said this to me & my parents is now the chief of police @ his township. Hmmm. Just saying.
missdirection1111 January 11, 2013 at 03:20 AM
Are solved-not ate...by the way, my "criminal" was never caught, crime never solved. So much for DUMB LUCK.
Kerry Murphy January 11, 2013 at 02:11 PM
You'd "keep an eye on this guy?" Let the police do their job and you sit tight. Your username is strangely appropriated, miss directed....
Miramira January 11, 2013 at 03:22 PM
Kerry, I believe that Missdirection said "I'd" as in I WOULD..referencing that fact that (if I were the police I would keep an eye on this guy) the post did NOT say I am going to keep an eye in this guy..so no reason to be rude and say YOU SIT TIGHT..how about a little compassion and say "SORRY YOU WERE THE VICTIM OF A CRIME..hope you're ok" Geesh
Dave Braun January 11, 2013 at 08:11 PM
I'm really hoping this is an eye opener to all districts. First job well done to all the authorities,school staff and especially the KIDS!!When I first heard this my heart dropped because my son goes to inglewood elementary in LANSDALE.. I think we really do need to have armed guards and metal detectors inside all of the schools to protect the ones we love.. I'm sorry but the times have changed so much and we need to look out for those most important to us! Maybe self defense classes as well in the schools. Anyways great job by all who responded so fast and high-fives to patch to get us these alerts so fast
Steve January 11, 2013 at 08:20 PM
Why don't you all just get along and stop bickering like little school children. We have issues in this world because people take offense to the little things instead of letting them go. The kids in the school saw what they saw and told the authorities. A job well done to them. In haste the author put up the wrong headline and then corrected it, kudos to him. You people infering that the jogger was a the wrong man or that he was what the kids saw is just shear bull cocky. Let the police do their jobs if they are certain that this was the POI then thats that. Do you really think they would allow your children to be in harms way on purpose. If you don't like the way the school, police or Patch did their jobs then apply for a job there, if you think you can do better. To the police, school and Patch great job at keeping everyone safe and informed.
missdirection1111 January 11, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Kerry- You misread... Take a look @ the post after yours for the correct interpretation. It's very sad to me that your post was so nasty. I'll keep your heart & soul in my prayers, sincerely offered. I hope you are ok in your life. I was simply offering a concern I felt. I could be (and hopefully am) wrong. My best to you.
Dark Space January 16, 2013 at 06:15 PM
I hang my generally wet sweatshirt out to dry outside after I run. That's not weird. What if he did have a gun? Sounds like he wasn't even on school property. Sometimes I carry when I run too. I remember as a kid my father always carried either spray or a metal pole when he ran too. Do you think that is odd? I think we should alert the authorities to keep an eye on you - displaying paranoid fantasies, may be a threat to local school kids.
Dark Space January 16, 2013 at 06:24 PM
Kerry's post wasn't nasty at all. You can interpret her response to mean the same thing as you, "the police should keep an eye on this guy" and it still makes sense. Why would the police keep an eye on someone who saw the alerts, then called them, and let them know he was running in the area. Your response is the typical non-sensical hysteria that leads to unintended consequences. Then your response goes on to to imply that something is wrong in her life that requires your prayer because she has an opposing opinion. Please keep your delusions and prayers to yourself.
Beth January 16, 2013 at 09:42 PM
Your heart breaks when there's a jogger running by a school? Or when you hear that we treat our schools like prisons?
worldpeace2013 January 22, 2013 at 04:31 AM
really?? who goes jogging and then just leaves his sweatshirt outside like that??? what a tool


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