Sterling Elementary School was in lockdown mode Friday afternoon after video footage showed a male intruder pulling a fire alarm and hiding in a restroom.
No one was hurt in the incident and the man was arrested by Alaska State Troopers.
District Communications Specialist Pegge Erkeneff said the fire alarm went off around 1:15 p.m. Friday, prompting the entire school to evacuate. Firefighters from Central Emergency Services checked the building and gave the all clear to reenter, determining it was a false alarm. Principal Denise Kelly immediately began reviewing video footage to see who had tampered with the fire alarm and saw a man enter the building, pull the alarm and exit again. Erkeneff said the man apparently milled around with students and staff and reentered the building with everyone else.
“So the school was immediately put into ‘stay put’ mode. And we realized that the man had walked into a bathroom right near the front area and had not come out of the bathroom yet,” Erkeneff said. “All of this happened within a period of a few minutes. So when he emerged from the bathroom the staff person that was right there engaged him in conversation. And at that time the troopers were already responding, arrived at the school, questioned him and took him into custody.”
Troopers arrested Robert Luton, 31, of Sterling, for second-degree terroristic threatening and fourth-degree criminal mischief. He was remanded to Wildwood Pretrial Facility.
Luton is no stranger to local law enforcement. His record includes convictions for third- and fourth-degree assault, as well as vehicle theft and several, wide-ranging misdemeanor convictions.
Erkeneff said it is unknown if Luton has a connection to the school or what his motive might have been. She said parents were notified of the situation as soon as possible with the district’s rapid-notify system, where parents receive a text message, e-mail or automated voice message, according to their preference. Principal Kelly also made a post on the school’s Facebook Page.
“The communications that went out, we were transparent, we were clear with parents, we got the information out as soon as possible to let our parents know what happened and Mrs. Kelley said she’s available to talk to school parents if they have questions on Monday,” Erkeneff said.
Erkeneff said the district will review the incident but that the school followed proper protocol.
“We keep one door unlocked in our schools — the front door. That’s what our policy is, so there’s not lots of ways to get in and out of our schools. But, like anything, when something like this happens, we’ll evaluate how the response was and if there’s anything we can learn and improve. But I know Mrs. Kelley felt really good about her staff and students at Sterling Elementary on Friday and of course everybody, all of us, are really relieved that nothing more came from it,” Erkeneff said.
School resumed as usual at Sterling Elementary on Monday morning.