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Home invasion causes lockdown at River Forest schools

Lake StatiPolice Det. Jerry Baldazo is stationed outside house 40 block E. 36th as police continue search for three suspects

Lake Station Police Det. Jerry Baldazo is stationed outside a house in the 40 block of E. 36th as police continue to search for three suspects who reportedly battered a victim and stole cash, property and a shotgun and fled on foot in Lake Station, Ind. Friday December 7, 2012. Nearby schools were placed on lockdown for a time during the search. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Schools might need emergency alert system

LAKE STATION — As frustrated parents and grandparents paced worriedly outside waiting for children to be released from a lockdown, the head of River Forest schools Friday said he will reconsider buying an emergency alert system to inform parents of events at the schools.

School officials also said they have a lockdown protocol in place and used it as recently as two weeks ago.

“It’s something we were looking into a couple of years ago, but it was very expensive for our budget to put that in place at the time,” schools Superintendent James Rice said of an emergency alert system that would have notified parents of the lockdown. “At this point, we’re going to look into it again.”

Rice said his district launched a lockdown protocol at 1:32 p.m. Friday, just moments after receiving word from local police about an apparently violent home invasion just blocks away from the three schools. The lockdown was dropped just minutes after the normal 2:30 release time for elementary school students.

Thanks to police scanners, e-mail and text messaging, Rice said, River Forest parents often find out about emergencies “because word gets around very quickly in our community.”

Concerned parents outside of River Forest High School were not convinced.

“(School officials) never contacted any parents that I know of,” said Robyn Mirkowski, waiting for her two high school children to be dismissed. “You just have parents running around, panicking, wondering what’s going on.”

“They got guys running around with shotguns, I’m coming to pick up my granddaughter,” added Mike Scherer, who lives two blocks from the school. “Nobody from the school told us anything.”

Other districts in the area have emergency alert systems for parents and the community. For example, Valparaiso schools send text, e-mail and phone messages warning parents of emergency safety precautions.

Each River Forest school records messages updating parents on the status of that building, and parents can access that recording any time, said River Forest High School Principal Shayne Snider.

The Friday lockdown came just two weeks after a surprise lockdown by school officials to search lockers for drugs and weapons, said River Forest High School Principal Shayne Snider.

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Updated: January 9, 2013 6:09AM



LAKE STATION — Police here said two suspects remained on the run after an alleged home invasion that became violent and prompted a lockdown of most River Forest schools.

Assistant Police Chief John McDaniel Jr. said his department called in help from the Lake County Sheriff’s and police departments from New Chicago and Hobart before assuring residents of their safety.

“We’re doing everything possible,” McDaniel said. “Our detectives are out. Our narcotics unit is out, and we’re getting assistance from outside departments.

“We aren’t going to stop until we locate these suspects.”

Details remained sketchy late Friday, but, according to McDaniel, two black males, dressed in black, forced their way into the home of an elderly man at 47 E. 36th Ave. demanding money, drugs and guns. The suspects also struck the homeowner with a weapon, causing cuts to his head. The man refused to be transported to a local hospital.

Afterward, the suspects fled into a wooded area adjacent to the house and the grounds of River Forest Elementary, Junior High and High School.

Original reports of three suspects proved incorrect, McDaniel said, but the department received help from a county police helicopter and a Lake Station K-9 officer in the search and in setting up a police perimeter around the area.

McDaniel said he did not know what kind of weapon the suspects had when they entered the house, but they took a shotgun, an undetermined amount of prescription pills and $100 cash out of the residence.

One of two witnesses to the alleged strong-arm robbery was an emotional woman at the police station who tearfully said she was the victim’s caregiver and did not “want to spend the rest of my life in jail.” When asked to comment on the event, a second witness said he was “too sore to talk right now.”

As soon as school officials were alerted by Lake Station police, they launched a lockdown protocol, said schools Superintendent James Rice. The three buildings in the River Forest complex and Evans Elementary were locked down, and bus transportation from Meister Elementary to the River Forest schools was canceled, he said.

No one was allowed in or out of the buildings, and students and staff were instructed to remain in their classrooms.

The district also canceled most after-school activities, allowing only a varsity boys home basketball game to proceed.

“I think what we did was according to our plans, and the (Lake Station) Police Department responded in very quick order,” Rice said. “From the time of our notification (by police) to dismissing the students was about an hour.”



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