By Robb Murray and Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writers
NEW PRAGUE — A 12-year-old male student was behind a pair of prank calls leading law enforcement and school officials to believe a school shooting had occurred in New Prague early Wednesday morning.
The suspect, who was in custody not long after police responded, reportedly made a pair of calls from his cellphone within five minutes of each other saying a shooting had taken place at the middle school and that two people were hurt.
The call prompted law enforcement from all over the region to respond. The first officers on the scene searched the school but found no one hurt. Officers also went to nearby Central Education Campus where they took the student into custody. Officials said that soon after the initial calls they had information that led them to the suspect.
At a news conference, police said no other students were involved. New Prague School Supt. Larry Kauzlarich said the schools received a threat call at about 8 a.m. Students in the building, which was put on lockdown, were notified classes would be canceled the rest of the day. Any students in the building were allowed to leave by 10:30 a.m. Bus drivers returning young students home checked to make sure a parent was home; otherwise the students were returned to school for pickup by their parents.
“There was never a time when your children were really in danger,” Kauzlarich said.
He said he couldn’t speculate on the potential punishment of the suspect, but he noted that another student had been expelled from school after he called in a bomb hoax about two months ago.
The police chief said he didn’t know what types of criminal charges may be sought.
Casey Hardy, an assistant county attorney in the Blue Earth County Attorney's office, who handles juvenile cases, said she doubted Scott County officials would bring the student into criminal court.
"Being he is so young, I would suspect they'd want some type of mental health assessment on the young man to see what made him do something like that," she said.
"I'm guessing it would be handled through Human Services, not through the criminal system."
A hearing will be held this week for the 12-year-old, according to attorney Marsh Halberg who has been retained to represent the boy. Halberg says the boy remains in custody, and a juvenile detention hearing will be scheduled for Thursday or Friday.
While the school shooting incident in New Prague turned out to be a hoax, there was plenty of folks who responded as if it wasn’t.
Lynn Hargreave had just dropped her eighth-grade daughter off and was driving away from the school when she saw a bunch of law enforcement vehicles speeding back toward it.
“At first I thought it was just a demonstration,” she said, “but then they just kept coming.”
She sent a text message to her daughter, hoping to hear back immediately that everything was OK. But she got no response.
“It was very scary,” Hargreave said.
By 10 a.m., there was a legion of reporters gathered in a bus garage across the street from the school waiting for a news conference. By that point, word had gone public that the incident wasn’t an incident at all, but a prank.
Halberg says the boy's parents want other parents to know no gun was involved and that it's safe for students to return to school.
Kevin Burns, marketing director with Mayo Clinic Health System, was at MCHS’s New Prague hospital. Before it was known the incident was a prank, the hospital had prepared for the worst.
“We set up an incident command to get all the resources and staff in place to respond,” Burns said. “We locked down the hospital for the safety of the patients, visitors and staff.”
By 9:35 a.m., Burns said, the hospital returned to normal operating procedures.
A large group of parents had gathered two blocks from the middle school asking nearby police what was going on, and they were told kids would be let out of school by 10:30 a.m.
Staff writer Robb Murray contributed to this story.