Vergennes schools locked down until police find woman with gun

VERGENNES — Vergennes schools were locked down for almost 90 minutes on Monday morning while about a dozen Vergennes and Vermont State police officers, a VSP canine, and one Department of Fish and Wildlife warden searched for and found a woman seen with a gun near Vergennes Union Elementary School.
Just before 11 a.m. on Nov. 2, police found the woman returning to VUES, said Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel, and discovered she was carrying an “Airsoft” pistol that uses compressed gas or a spring to fire small plastic pellets that can do only minimal damage. Such guns, which look like real firearms, can be purchased readily without permits at sporting goods stores.
Merkel said police did not cite the woman because at no point was she seen threatening anybody or brandishing the Airsoft gun. Police consulted with the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office before making that decision, he said.
Police did confiscate the Airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets that Merkel said are smaller than a pea at a velocity less than that of a pellet gun shooting metal pellets.
The plastic pellets, Merkel said, “could damage someone’s eye,” “leave a nice welt,” or possibly break a pane of glass.
Just before 9:20 a.m. police heard that male was seen at VUES with a handgun tucked into the small of his back, Merkel said, giving police and school officials no choice but to deal with the incident as potentially dangerous.
“We’re not going to half-step this,” Merkel said. “We have to take it seriously.”
School officials at Vergennes Union High School and VUES called for the lockdowns quickly just after 9:30 a.m., and lifted them just before 11 a.m., when police told them they had found the individual seen with the weapon. Students remained in their classrooms behind locked doors during the lockdown periods.
Police officers manned security posts around the schools and a systematic search of the area began. Authorities determined that video footage of the suspect had been captured on a cruiser camera earlier in the morning and it police reviewed it.
As police were starting to tracking using trained dogs. the suspect was seen approaching the school. Officers approached the suspect and found the Airsoft gun in the person’s waistband.
Police questioned the woman, the parent of a VUES child, and decided she was not a threat to the school. They did issue an order to the woman to not trespass at the school.
“Local area school staff and Addison County law enforcement responded well to this incident,” Chief Merkel said in a statement. “Thanks to all those who assisted us in our efforts to keep our schools safe.”Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials encountered difficulty trying to notify parents of the situation. Superintendent JoAn Canning said they first turned to the ANwSU robocall system, which can send emergency messages to a list of parents and others, but it wouldn’t work right away. 
Knowing that word was spreading quickly on social media, Canning said she made the decision to post information on Facebook to reach at least some community members.
Some parents complained about being notified in that manner, but Canning said she believed some official response was better than none. As soon as possible, robocalls went out, she said. 
“It took me 20 minutes to figure out a glitch in our robocall system,” Canning said. “When I figured out the phone error I sent the message out.”
Editor’s note: The initially posting of this story identified the person with the air gun was a man, but the story was corrected to indicate the person is a woman, plus the story was further updated with additional details, including the fact that a no-trespass order was issued.

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