MUNCIE, Ind. Aug 11 2018 – A Muncie teen who had 10 knives – under his jacket and strapped to his body – apparently entered Central High School on Wednesday afternoon through a planetarium door, officials said Thursday.
Thomas Lee Owens III, 18 – who had previously been ordered to stay away from the Central campus – maintained when he went to the school at about the time students were being dismissed, he had hoped to “hang out” with a friend who attends the high school.
Owens – who reportedly told police he “routinely wears his leather jacket during the summer months and always carries several knives” – insisted he had “no intention of hurting anyone at the school,” city police investigator Kyle Monroe wrote in a report.
The teen – taken into custody outside the school by Brandon Qualls, a city police officer who also works as Central’s school resource officer – was preliminarily charged with trespassing and 10 counts of possession of a knife on school property.
Did the incident expose a security weakness – the time after dismissal when students are pouring out of the building, as well as the time before school starts when they’re streaming in?
“I feel security here is very good,” Steve Edwards, emergency manager of the Muncie school district, said Thursday. “It’s very difficult when students are going out and somebody can walk in the door, but our assistant principal caught it. When students arrive and leave is a very difficult time at any school.”
He said he was “very pleased with the quick reaction of school officials and the resource officer who was there. I’m pleased how they handled it and stopped the individual.”
Jim Williams, school board president, called the incident “clearly disturbing.”
A good security system requires multiple layers, Williams said.
Officer Qualls “did a great job,” Williams said. “That’s one layer of security … I’m pleased in the sense that that layer of security actually worked.”
But the district must consider “additional measures to beef up the layers,” he said.
Edwards agreed that the incident created an opportunity “to see if we can improve on what we’re doing … Did we do it right? Is there something else we can do? Is there another approach we can take?”
Owens – who had been released from the Delaware County jail by Thursday afternoon – was preliminarily charged with 11 misdemeanor offenses.
Police Chief Joe Winkle said Thursday it was his understanding that should Owens again go on Central property, the resulting trespassing charge could be enhanced to a felony.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Eric Hoffman said his office had not yet received reports stemming from the Central incident.
An arrest affidavit reflected a review of the teen’s cellphone and Facebook exchanges appeared to confirm his account of how he came to be at Central on Wednesday.
Jason Rogers, Delaware County’s emergency management director and a member of the Delaware County School Safety Commission, said Wednesday’s case was “handled without incident and shows the accomplishments and coordination between the Central High School staff and the security team they have in place.”
“I have family and friends that work in that building and I never doubted the situation would have a successful ending,” Rogers said. “Today is the day to prepare so you can respond to tomorrow’s situation. Our children’s safety is taken very seriously in this community.”
Before Wednesday’s incident even occurred, the school board was scheduled to hear a security update from security chief Chuck Hensley at the board meeting next Tuesday, Williams said.
Central High is equipped with 80 school security cameras. Those are being linked to the Delaware County Emergency Management Center that answers 911 calls. The school also can use panic buttons to activate audio at the 911 center.
Seventeen hand held metal detectors are on their way to the Muncie school district from the state. Other pending security improvements include increasing the number of school employees equipped with radios and obtaining SchoolGuard app technology for smart phones. In the event of an active shooting, a teacher presses the panic button provided in the app.