Reports of heard gunshots in Bloomington Hills leads to lockouts in area schools

Officers with the St. George Police Department were stationed around Desert Hills High School and searching the surrounding area during Tuesday's lock out, St. George, Utah, May 18, 2021 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — On Tuesday afternoon, suspicious sounds near Bloomington Hills Elementary School led to a lockout at all nearby schools.

The lock out procedure is less severe than a full lockdown, but in both cases police are called to investigate and resolve any possible threats to students, St. George, Utah, May 18, 2021 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

At about 1 p.m., the St. George Police Department began receiving calls about possible gunshots in the area of the elementary school. Public Information Officer Tiffany Mitchell said the department dispatched about 20 officers to secure nearby schools and locate the source of the sounds. 

“We made sure the elementary school was safe, first of all,” Mitchell said. “Then we had officers spread out and go different directions from where it was reported. There were workers in the area that heard it, and they went looking for the source of it, too. We appreciate the community’s help trying to locate where it was coming from.”

Bloomington Hills Elementary, Bloomington Hills Preschool, Desert Hills Middle and Desert Hills High School were all under a lockout. Eventually, the source of the noise was identified as a backfiring, late-80’s Ford pickup truck.

St. George News was on scene and heard a loud popping noise coming from a brownish-gold pickup truck matching the police description as it drove by the high school on Desert Hills Drive.

Steven Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District, said the lockout was lifted once police had finished their search.

“If we know the threats outside the building, then we do what’s called a lockout procedure,” Dunham said. “All students are brought inside. Exterior doors are locked. Nobody’s allowed in or out of the building until the lockout is lifted and we make sure everyone is accounted for.”

Police vehicles were parked outside Desert Hills Middle School while suspicious sounds reported nearby were investigated, St. George, Utah, May 18, 2021 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

For first responders, preparation is key to protecting as many people as possible in the event of a school shooting or other school crisis. In addition to regular briefings, Mitchell said the St. George Police Department prepares its officers for these events with specialized training and drills.

“We do active shooter training once a year with as many agencies in Southern Utah as we can get to come,” Mitchell said. “It’s always in the back of our minds that this could be a possibility, and so this is what we’re trained for and we just get after it. All the resources we have head that way.”

Schools can respond to possible threats according to their perceived severity and danger. Dunham said a lockout is a more mild response for circumstances where the threat is lower and a full lockdown is deemed unnecessary. He thanked the St. George Police Department for responding quickly and helping keep students safe.

“We have a great community where everybody pulls together,” Dunham said. “Our St. George Police Department is one of the very best I’ve ever worked with. It’s really impressive to see how efficient they are and how well they do.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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