Lockdown ordered at Big Sky High after graffiti found on bathroom wall

The Missoula Police Department had staged a presence in and around Big Sky High School on Thursday morning in response to an undisclosed threat that put the school into lockdown. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A lockdown was ordered at Big Sky High School on Thursday morning after graffiti was found on a bathroom wall indicating an undisclosed threat, according to school administrators.

While Missoula County Public Schools hasn’t yet detailed the incident or what prompted it, one 11th-grade student said a “soft lockdown” was ordered over the intercom system at roughly 11:30 a.m.

“I was in gym class when they announced that we had an active shooter around,” said Makayla Southwick as her mother removed her from the school. “They announced over the intercom and said we were going to be on soft lockdown. We were all on lockdown and weren’t allowed to leave until a parent or guardian came to get us.”

The school hasn’t said whether such an announcement was made, though it did say no active shooter was involved in the day’s events.

Officers with the Missoula Police Department had established a strong and visible presence at the school by noon, and several officers monitored the front door, controlling who entered and who left.

District spokesperson Hatton Littman said parents had been notified. Many were arriving over the noon hour to remove their child from school.

“At this point, we alerted families at Big Sky High School of the fact that we had additional graffiti on one of our bathroom walls that was identified just after 11:15 or 11:20,” Littman said. “We notified families just as fast as we possibly could.”

A Missoula Police Officer opens the door for a parent arriving at Big Sky High School to pick up her child. Police controlled the school’s doors and who could enter and leave. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Littman said the school remained on “perimeter lock-in,” and only those students excused from class by a parent or guardian were allowed to leave.

“Those are our safety procedures to make sure we can account for every student in the building,” Littman said. “We do have additional law enforcement inside the building doing a sweep, as well as the superintendent and other administrators.”

Littman said the district would provide additional details later in the day and asked the media to stage off school grounds. Shortly after 1 p.m., the district had no updates on the graffiti  that led to the lockdown and confusion among parents.

“There is no further information related to the graffiti found earlier in the day,” the district said. “The law enforcement sweep of the school did not uncover any additional threatening information that required additional action.”

Still, some parents were shaken by the incident, including Kim Southwick, who said she didn’t receive a call from the school and was only notified by a friend that the incident was taking place.

“They should take the time to call because this isn’t something to mess around with,” said Kim. “These are our children’s lives. Enough of this stuff has been going on around the country, and I’m sorry, but i’m not going to risk my daughter’s life for this.”

Big Sky dealt with an alleged verbal threat made against the school earlier this week, though it was deemed to be a low-level threat. School principal Natalie Jaeger said several students told the administration they had safety concerns regarding at least one post made on social media.

One parent, who asked not to be identified, said the graffiti warned students not to be in school at a specific time. She also praised the school for taking action, saying some people were making a challenging situation harder.

“They’re doing a good job – the best they can,” she said of the school. “Some people are making it harder by acting hysterical.”