PHILIPPI, W.Va. — A hostage situation at Philip Barbour High School that drew dozens of law enforcement agents to the facility Tuesday afternoon and made national headlines ended without violence, police said.
At about 1 p.m., a 14-year-old male student brandishing a pistol would not allow his classmates or the teacher to leave a second-floor classroom, officials said.
“After initial negotiations, the suspect agreed to release all of the hostages. After further negotiations, the suspect put the gun down and surrendered to law enforcement without further incident,” West Virginia State Police Public Information Officer Lt. Michael Baylous indicated in a press release Tuesday evening.
Pastor Howard Swick of Haven of Hope Worship Center, in Barbour County, took to Facebook Tuesday night, saying the suspect in the hostage situation had previously come to the church complaining of being bullied at school.
“It’s after 11:00 (p.m.) and I’m just now processing the events of today. When we don’t have all the facts it’s easy to give our opinions (mine included) But today as I stood inches from a very hurt and confused child holding a gun – it became real…. Praise God no one was injured or shot but let’s be careful about our FB Post/real people with real families and friends are reading your posts,” Swick wrote.
“We read about bullying in schools and events like today and we think these are things that happen somewhere else not here,” he continued. “This young man, who has been coming to our teen ministry, had been bullied the day before. And that combined with other issues caused the child to snap. We can keep our heads in the sand and pretend like nothing is wrong here or we can use today’s events to join together and stand against Bullies in the school and Drugs in the school….”
Other area residents also utilized Facebook Tuesday to share their reactions to the incident.
A post by Doug Boggs states, “This really bothered me today. We were texting one of the teachers from work and she replied the gunman was down the hall with hostages. She also said she asked the class if anyone wanted to pray and the entire class came to her, held hands, and they all prayed!! I can only imagine how scared they were. God bless everyone involved! One boy text his sister in his class and said the gunman held a gun to his head!”
The school was placed on lockdown and all students were safely evacuated to the school’s football field, where they remained for more than an hour until being bused home or picked up by parents waiting at the scene.
The suspect was taken via ambulance to a local hospital to undergo an evaluation.
Police declined to comment about whether shots were fired or if there was a known motive for the incident, stating the investigation remained open.
At 6:55 p.m., an “Emergency Juvenile Detention Preliminary Hearing was held before the Honorable Alan D. Moats Circuit Court Judge for Barbour County,” Barbour County Prosecuting Attorney Leckta Poling wrote in a press release late Tuesday evening. “The juvenile offender has been placed in a Secure Detention facility and will remain there pending an Adjudicatory Hearing.”
Through the course of the afternoon, Barbour County Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Woofter and a number of West Virginia State Police officers kept the group of parents waiting just outside the school’s grounds updated about the situation.
In the first update to parents, Cpl. S.P. Miller announced the incident was contained and urged parents not to text their children requesting they leave the school.
“Children are down at the football field. We’re asking parents not to text your children and tell them to leave. We need to keep the children here,” Miller said. “They’re contained away from the situation. We need to be able to tell what students we have missing, either still in the school or that we have pulled away from the school -so if you’re a parent and have texted your child ‘come on, lets go or whatever,’ disregard that and please tell them to stay in place.”
Roughly 40 minutes after the initial update, Woofter told the group of parents that all students were safe.
“Everybody is safe, first thing,” Woofter said. “The incident involving the young man (suspect) is still going on but it’s in the front of the school and hopefully that will play out, but you know, as far as it goes, everything will be fine. All your kids are safe.”
Approximately 20 minutes later, Lt. D.E. Johnson announced to the group that the suspect had been apprehended without incident and students would soon be released from the school.
Nearly two hours after the resolution of the hostage situation, West Virginia State Police Captain D.P. Reider, Philippi Police Chief J.W. Walters, Barbour County Chief Deputy B.M. Carpenter and Poling took part in a press conference near the school grounds.
“I’d like to start by thanking the educators that were on scene, they did an awesome job of evacuating the facility,” Reider said. “Per protocol, law enforcement got on scene, contained the situation and ultimately were able to remove hostages from the classroom and subsequent to that were able to talk to the juvenile subject inside and have him surrender without incident.”
Reider said police were still in the process of conducting more interviews with witnesses.
“We’re interviewing witnesses, interviewing everyone that was involved. We just did get all of the students released to their parents, and we’d like to also thank the parents for their patience. These types of situations are very difficult and there was some delay in releasing the children to their parents based on the fact that we had to secure the facility, make sure it was safe, and once we got them evacuated and could do that, we released the children to the parents,” Reider said.
“They were very cooperative, patient, and I can’t thank them enough for that. These types of situations can often times become problematic if we don’t have that patience, and tragedy today was avoided because of that, the quick response of law enforcement and all the first responders, the educators and the parents, students and teachers alike.”
Reider said state troopers from as far as Morgantown responded, in addition to numerous representatives from federal law enforcement agencies.
Agents from the Philippi Police Department, Belington Police Department, the Barbour County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI, the ATF and the U.S. Marshals Service also responded to the scene, officials said.
The West Virginia State Police thanked everyone involved in helping ensure the disturbance ended without further incident.
“The West Virginia State Police would like to thank all involved law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and first responders. Additionally, the West Virginia State Police would like to thank all the parents of the schoolchildren for their patience, understanding, and cooperation,” a WVSP press release states. “Their ability to keep calm in this situation made it much easier for officers to successfully perform their duties, which resulted in positive conclusion to an incident which easily could have developed into a tragedy. Finally, the West Virginia State Police would like to recognize the involved school personnel for having a clear, concise plan of evacuation for the school and executing it with perfection.”