Portage schools went into a “secure hold” during first period Friday morning after an alleged threat by a 16-year-old on a student bus.
The Portage Police Department was alerted just before 8 a.m. that a 16-year-old Waushara County boy, who was believed to be armed, boarded a school bus stopped at the intersection of Adams and Edgewater Streets. The former Portage student allegedly threatened a rider, then fled on foot toward downtown, according to a statement released by Police Chief Ken Manthey.
Police and members of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office searched for the teen, reportedly seen with a knife, brass knuckles and a pistol. At 9:10 a.m., the boy arrived with his mother at the Portage Police station, where he was taken into custody and schools were advised to resume normal operations.
The teen, previously described as being from Endeavor, lives now in Waushara County. The confrontation Friday, he told officers, was not random, but over a girl.
The Portage Police Department received the initial report at 7:55 a.m. from a Portage High School staff member, who was alerted by students. In the next 10 minutes, officers were dispatched to Portage High School and Rusch Elementary, and alerts were sent to other schools.
Initial reports involved descriptions of the teen possibly carrying a pistol with another describing him as holding a knife to his own throat. Portage Police Lt. Keith Klafke said the reports appeared to be inaccurate, as the boy led officers to the area where he threw away the brass knuckles. No other weapons have been found.
During a secure hold, schools tighten security while continuing with classes.
“All of our doors are locked,” said Portage Area School District Administrator Charles Poches, “but we wanted to make sure we had a good vigil on them and make sure they were closed. They were secured. Anyone entering our buildings were directed to enter through our secure doorways, which is a buzz-in system.”
Parents questioned the time it took for them to be notified of the incident.
“And at exactly 9:10 I called them and asked if it was true that the schools were on lockdown because I received an email at 9:08 saying that they were,” said parent Brooke Drake, of Portage, who contacted Wayne Bartels Middle School, where her daughter goes to school. “When I talked to other parents about this, they found out about this at 7:20 this morning — why were we not called to say, ‘Don’t bring your kids into school?’”
Poches said authorities were working to verify information before sending any notifications.
“That’s part of the issue we are dealing with because the lines of communication were different in that social media played a very large part,” Poches said. “The problem we run into is that we want to make sure that any information we share with parents is accurate and we wanted to work with Portage Police Department to make sure that what we were saying was correct and based on the facts.”
Among the messages shared by parents and online was an email from St. Mary Catholic School Principal Jamie Hahn, alerting that the school would be in lockdown, saying, “There was an incident on a school bus this morning that involved a student with weapons. A 17-year-old male student was supposedly armed with a pistol, knife and brass knuckles. He was last seen by Rusch School.” The screenshot of the shared message showed a time of 8:36 a.m.
Hahn declined to comment about the email.
“I was first notified about 8:15 and we wanted some clarity of what was happening with the incident,” Poches said. “We created a message to send to parents, and that message was sent at 9:07 and during that time we also wanted to make sure that all our buildings were consistent with what Portage Police was recommending.”
Adding to the frustration, according to Drake, was that when she called Wayne Bartels Middle School to ask about what was happening, she said she was told that there was a medical situation, but it had been resolved.
“Well, that was not misleading, to be honest,” said Wayne Bartels Middle School Principal Tim Rueth. “There was a completely separate incident that, obviously, for confidentiality reasons I cannot divulge.”
When Portage police reviewed security camera footage of the bus incident, the teen could be seen with bulges under his sweatshirt, but no knife or gun were seen.
Waushara County juvenile authorities in Wautoma have authorized that the teen be held in secure juvenile custody with tentative charges of stalking, reckless endangerment with a dangerous weapon, making a terrorist threat — for allegedly threatening to shoot a student on the bus — disorderly conduct and trespassing on a school bus.
“Anyone entering our buildings were directed to enter through our secure doorways, which is a buzz-in system.” — Charles Poches, superintendent of Portage Schools