Hylton Community Safe, But Not Sound

Prince William County Police Chief Barry Barnard, left, and Prince William County Schools Superintendent Steve Walts outside of C.DC Hylton Senior High School on Tuesday afternoon.


Steve Walts and Police Chief on Tuesday afternoon at Hylton.

Watchdog Editorial Board, Staff

A secure the building was declared at Hylton shortly before dismissal on Tuesday, April 30, 2019.

“Everyone was getting ready to leave the classroom,” said sophomore Siana Koulefianou. “We had our backpacks on and were standing near the door. After Mr. Cassady’s announcement, we were unsure what to do.”

According to the PWCS Crisis Management Plan accessed May 6, a secure the building status is initiated when there is a “general threat in the vicinity of the school, such as a police suspect on the run, regional event, such as the sniper shooting or 9/11, or any violent crime in the area. The education process continues.” During a secure the building, the school is secured from outside entry, but students can still exit classrooms for bathroom and water.

While some students and staff were panicked, other teachers trusted that it was a typical secure the building indicating that something was going on near the school. Many students remained calm; they just wanted to eat and use the restroom.  They wondered what was going on and when they would be free to go home.

“We had the news broadcast on the SMART board and our teacher was telling us the information that she was getting,” said senior Vince Blevins. “Other than that, we were mainly hanging out. Our class is right next to the commons and there were lots of people in my classroom. I was kind of mad because I was hungry and I did not have any food.”

As the Hylton community inside the school was receiving emails and text notifications, Hylton parents outside the school were also receiving notifications.

Hylton parent Kim Kennedy said, “I was informed of the incident while I was waiting to pick up my daughter and her friends. The police and school personnel were in the parking lot keeping parents informed. PWCS and Hylton were sending texts to keep parents updated. I was comfortable that the staff and faculty were protecting the students while keeping families informed. I believe they handled the situation the best way given the circumstances and focused on the safety of the students.”

While many members of the Hylton community were relatively relaxed, some teachers were unsure of the situation and initially treated it as a lockdown.  

According to PWCS Crisis Management Plan accessed May 6, a lockdown is initiated when there is an “immediate hostile threat” to school staff and students. The threat may be inside the school or on the school grounds. The education process stops. During a lockdown, every teacher is expected to first pull nearby students in the hall into their classroom and then ensure the classroom door is locked, turn off classroom lights, move students to areas out of the line-of-sight of doorway windows and have everyone silence their phones.

Sophomore Victoria Miranda said, “[The teacher] continued teaching until a student mentioned there had been a gunshot in the school. At that point, she stopped teaching, turned off all the lights, told us to be quiet and put our heads down and stop using our phones. It was jarring because for 10 minutes we sat in the dark and thought about what was going on.”

Many teachers used the information they had to assess the threat on their own. Students in classrooms with a view of the bus route felt a higher sense of concern as they watched the activity outside.

Sophomore Trinity Marshall said, “My teacher walked up to the window and looked out and then she said, ‘this is a lockdown’ and turned out the lights and we all got to the back of the classroom.  We were in the dark for 30 minutes. Then she got an email and turned on the lights.”

Everyone was relieved when students and staff were finally released unharmed around 5:30 p.m., but questions remain.

At the May 1 PWCS School Board meeting, Hylton parent Anthony Bertrand questioned the procedures in place. “This is a big problem. How does a gun go missing for five hours with hundreds of people looking for it?” said Bertrand. “We gotta do better, we have to do better guys, and I look forward to your plan on how you’re going to make it better.”