FERNDALE - Police methodically searched Ferndale High School Friday morning, May 2, after what turned out to be a false report of shots fired at the school.
Around 10:05 a.m. a 911 caller reported a man was at the Ferndale High School campus with a rifle, and the caller had heard three gunshots, according to a police news release.
The report later was verified as false.
To ensure the safety of students and staff, police instituted safety protocols and locked down the district's schools, except for Beach Elementary, which is on Lummi Island, said Superintendent Linda Quinn.
Six minutes after the call about the high school, another 911 call reported a man with a gun going into the Home Depot store in Bellingham for a robbery. Both calls came from the same number, and when the dispatcher mentioned the high school shooting call to the Home Depot caller, he hung up, according to police.
No one else contacted 911 about any shooting or gunman at the school or store. Given that most students and staff carry cellphones, it seemed unlikely the reports were true.
But police handled it like a school shooting, evacuating students and methodically searching room to room. The search at Ferndale High was completed shortly before noon with nothing found.
As of 12:03 p.m. the lockdown was lifted at all schools and students were back in class or at lunch.
A police chase that ended near Windward High School Friday morning with the fleeing driver shooting himself apparently was not related to the false gunman reports. The 911 call about the school came before the chase had even started.
Quinn said she did not know details about the call, other than that no shooting took place and no shooter was ever on campus.
"I really am just very happy all our kids are safe - our schools all did a great job," Quinn said. "Everything worked the way it should. It wasn't a drill and we got to practice in a situation where nobody got hurt."
The first time many parents heard about the lockdown was from media reports and social media. The school district first posted a note about the lockdown on its Facebook page at 11:04 a.m. In that initial post and a letter sent to parents around 2 p.m., the district said the lockdown was related to the police chase, apparently a separate incident.
"We were not aware there'd been a call about an active shooter," Quinn said.
Quinn said she was not sure when the district office was informed about the prank call.
Many parents flocked to the schools once they heard about the lockdown. That is understandable, Quinn said, but not recommended.
"We have pretty clear protocols and we don't release kids in the middle of a lockdown," Quinn said. "I would definitely recommend parents not come, but I also understand. But it can compromise the situation."
During a lockdown, schools take orders from police, so the chain of command is different, and police do not allow parents into the schools, Quinn said.
The district had just met last week with a company that is helping them redo emergency protocols, Quinn said.
"I didn't know we'd be in one quite this fast," she said. "This is the first time we've had an emergency like this, where we have a Facebook page and so do others. We'll be thinking about the best way to do that kind of communication."
The manager of Home Depot, Alan Mathes, said nothing unusual had happened at the store Friday morning.
Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.