View Full Caption
NEAR WEST SIDE — Whitney Young students and faculty took cover in classrooms Thursday afternoon after a man allegedly threatened to shoot police officers at the Chicago Police Academy next door, students and school officials said.
However, the threat appeared to be “baseless,” a police officer said.
At 3:15 p.m., principal Joyce Kenner came over the loudspeakers and told students and staff in the building that the school was on lockdown and to take cover.
“She said, ‘You need to get down, get away from the windows,’ ” said freshman Gabrielle Wolf. “You could tell there was fear in her voice.”
Students ran into classrooms and hid under desks, and faculty did the same. Many were crying. Some, like senior Gabriela Iturralde, feared at first that there was a shooter inside the building.
“That’s what happens in America today,” said Iturralde, who was in the computer lab at the time. The students closed the door and hid under tables. Iturralde said the scariest moment for her was when the door flew open again, but it was their teacher returning to the room.
After about 10 minutes, Kenner came back on the loudspeaker to say that a “homeless guy” had threatened to shoot up the Chicago Police Academy across the street from the school at Jackson and Loomis, students said. Several police officers came to the school.
Wolf, who was at a theater rehearsal in the school’s arts building, said she tried to call her twin brother, Bryce, who was also at the school practicing with his Cross Country team.
“He didn’t answer, and it scared me so bad,” she said. “Like, why aren’t you picking up?”
Bryce Wolf said a police officer told his coach to take the students inside, so the team and other student athletes took shelter in the school basement.
Kenner sent an email to students and staff later Thursday afternoon, saying the scare originated with a patient at nearby Rush University Medical Center.
“Allegedly, a homeless man had an incident at RUSH Presbyterian hospital and told a police officer he was on his way over to the Police Academy to shoot police officers,” she wrote. “Police officers had their weapons drawn outside and were searching the neighborhood to ensure the safety of our students and residents.”
Kenner said in the email that an officer outside the school told a Whitney Young coach to put the school on lockdown as they searched for the man.
A police officer near the scene said afterward that the homeless man’s threat was baseless.
“Basically, it was all blown out of proportion,” the officer said.
Parents and students, however, said that until they learned it was not a real threat, thoughts of mass shootings around the country and the possibility of a deadly situation raced through their minds.
“I thought maybe it was a false alarm, but then I thought maybe did someone finally snap?” Gabrielle Wolf said. “Now, talking with my friends, we said we could have all just died right there.”
Both the Wolf twins are black belts and have participated in active shooter drills at Chicago Public Schools, said mother Dina Wolf. But when her daughter called and told her about the situation, “in light of everything that’s happening [in the country], it’s horrible,” she said.
“This generation, where we had to deal with tornados or thunderstorms, they have to do it on a whole other level,” Dina Wolf said. “It’s pretty scary.”
The lockdown took place about a half hour after Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) had wrapped up a groundbreaking ceremony at the nearby Skinner West Elementary School.
A police cadet told DNAinfo that the police academy, which is across Loomis from the school, also went on lockdown for about 15 minutes.
Most students had already left Whitney Young following an early dismissal Thursday, but many remained for extracurricular activities and sports practice.
A Chicago Police spokeswoman did not immediately have information on the incident.