Search for armed man at Scottsdale school turns up nothing suspicious

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Mike Watkiss

Posted on December 19, 2012 at 7:53 AM

Updated Friday, Dec 21 at 10:24 AM

Map: Cocopah Elementary School

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Scottsdale police converged on Cocopah Middle School Wednesday morning after somebody reported seeing an armed person on the school grounds.

Cocopah is located northeast of 64th Street and Shea Boulevard.

A food-service worker reported seeing a man in a long coat with a holstered weapon at about 6 a.m. School officials and police took every possible precaution.

"Due to a police situation in the area, the perimeter around Cocopah Middle School is closed," read the school's website shortly before 8 a.m. "We are requesting that you drop your child off in the Chaparral Auditorium on the north side of the campus. Teachers and staff will supervise children."

Scottsdale Police Sgt. Mark Clark said search teams were working to clear the campus.

"We're searching every building, every square inch of the campus," Clark said, explaining that SPD was following safety protocols that have been in place for quite some time. "We want to make sure there is absolutely nobody on campus who isn't supposed to be here. ... We want to make sure it's safe before we let anyone back here."

Aerial video from the scene showed several police vehicles at the school and armed SWAT officers going from classroom to classroom.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office helicopter provided air support for the search operation.

The flag at Cocopah, like flags throughout the country, is still flying at half staff in honor of the victims of Friday's deadly mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

While that shooting is still very much on people's minds, it is not what prompted Wednesday morning's operation. Scottsdale police said this kind of extensive, methodical search happens any time a person with a weapon is reported at or near a school.

Police wrapped up their search shortly before 10:30 a.m.

"No suspect was ever located on campus," the school's website read. "We realize that this morning’s events have significantly disrupted the school day, but we believe that it was better to be proactive and ensure that all were safe."

Once police cleared the campus, students who had been dropped off at Chaparral were bussed over to Cocopah. Classes were set to go on as usual. Because it was a scheduled half-day, students were released at 11:20 a.m.

According to school officials, police were going to maintain a presence on campus throughout the day.

Susan Thomas, the principal at Cocopah, sent a letter to parents and guardian regarding the incident.

"This letter is to inform you that Cocopah was closed due to a police situation in the area. Earlier this morning, one of our employees observed a suspicious person hanging around the Cocopah campus. The unknown person was believed to have a firearm in a holster on his belt. In order to ensure the safety of our students, The Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) conducted a thorough search of the campus. During this time, Cocopah students were redirected to Chaparral High School where SUSD personnel provided supervision.

"After the SPD search was completed and everything was deemed safe and secure, Cocopah students were transported back to the school. We want to thank our students, parents and staff for their patience and cooperation.

"Again our students were never in any danger throughout this incident. Please be assured that student safety is our number one priority. If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact me at 480-444-4400 or SusanThomas@susd.org"

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