The man who allegedly entered Lake Central High School grounds with a handgun is a two-time felon, according to a news release from St. John police.
Police Chief James Kveton described the man as an “irate offender” who allegedly entered the school's auto shop area on Sept. 21 with what appeared to be a visible handgun on him in order to confront a student who he felt was driving recklessly.
St. John police and the Lake County prosecutor's office are currently working together regarding potential charges, police said.
In the news release issued Wednesday, Kveton said a student confronted the man about his gun, and the incident could have easily had a fatal end.
“Thankfully, this incident was defused by a student that confronted the offender with the unlawful nature of carrying a handgun onto school grounds and into the school, which caused the offender to think twice and remove what appeared to be a gun from his waist and place it into his vehicle,” Kveton said. “The initial thought process on the part of the offender to intentionally bring what appeared to be a handgun onto school property to confront a child that was driving recklessly, could have easily resulted in a physical confrontation, where someone could have been shot or killed.”
Kveton said under a collaborative investigation with Lake Central School administration three days following the incident, police conducted a neighborhood canvas, additional interviews, reviewed phone records and recovered video evidence.
“Within that time frame a person of interest was identified, who lived in the area and who is a two-time convicted felon,” Kveton said.
Janice Malchow, a member of the Lake Central School Corporation school board, said she was present at the scene and saw the individual, however the alleged gun on his person was not visible to her.
The man who brought the gun onto school property was “very irate” after seeing a student from the auto shop allegedly driving recklessly in a residential neighborhood northwest of the high school, according to police.
Despite community members rallying around industrial arts teacher Dennis Brannock, Kveton said the actions of the adults in the situation must be investigated due to the “severity of the incident, the safety risk and the unexplained delay in reporting this incident.”
Brannock was placed on administrative leave following the incident.
“It is honorable to come to the aid of and defend a trusted and respected adult/teacher/friend, but we are all accountable for our actions or inaction,” Kveton said in the news release. “I praise and support the students and parents that had the willingness to come forward and report these very serious chain of events to the police and school administration. Thankfully this did not result in a tragedy similar to those we have witnessed in other parts of our country.”
Witnesses reported that students in the classroom were told not to discuss or report the incident by the present adults. No immediate report to the police or administration was made and no school safety protocols such as a lockdown were ever performed, police said.
“During this review Lake County prosecutors expressed significant concerns related to the failure of the adults who were present, to immediately take action and report this incident and regarding the extended delay in initiating the investigation due to that delay,” Kveton said.
Students and parents who were uncomfortable with the direction given by the teacher reported the incident to police and the adults present did not notify police or the administration, Kveton said in the news release. Kveton said the students who reported the situation said they were concerned for the safety of the students in the auto shop area.
“It should also be noted that many other students and adults, were on school grounds for other extra-curricular activities, and were not made aware of or notified of the confrontation or potential danger,” Kveton said.
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