HOLLIDAYSBURG - A deadly shooting Friday in Geeseytown jolted schools in the area, many of which barely finished their moment of silence for the victims of the Dec. 14 national tragedy in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Hollidaysburg Catholic School Principal Elaine Spencer, without asking specifics, called Hollidaysburg Borough Mayor Joe Dodson on Friday morning to verify what she heard from a parent about a shooting.
The mayor confirmed there was an "incident," she said.
"Thank you, that's all I need to know," Spencer related of the call.
Hollidaysburg Catholic was officially on lockdown after
Spencer ordered that classrooms be locked with students and teachers inside until their scheduled early dismissal for Christmas vacation.
"Because of what happened in the past week, I think they were all feeling a sense of ... when I called a lockdown, the older kids knew we were serious. We've never done this before," she said.
Patrick and Sue Podoletz of Hollidaysburg saw several police cars rushing in the direction of Hollidaysburg Area School District's Frankstown Elementary School, where they had just dropped off their daughter for the start of school at 9 a.m.
Thoughts of Newtown, Conn., compelled Podoletz to turn around and follow the police until he saw them headed for a village away from his daughter's school on Reservoir Road.
"When I saw the police cars go toward the school, I was concerned because there are so many 'copycat' crimes," he said. "I'm a worrier."
But if he had followed police a few miles further, to a church just outside of Geeseytown, he would have seen there was a shooting. It was reported at about 9 a.m.
By the time Frankstown administrators were aware of the incident, police had killed the shooter who targeted people in 1-mile radius of Juniata Valley Gospel Church.
"They told us there was an incident involving a weapon. And it's under control. There is no threat to students. So, they did not see a need for us to go into lockdown," Principal Frank Filkosky said.
Hollidaysburg Superintendent Paul Gallagher recorded a voice message which he promptly sent to parents to calm those who may have heard vague rumors.
"We have been informed by state police of an incident in Geeseytown. It did not involve students or district personnel. The incident is over and police assured us that there is absolutely no threat to students," he said.
But a concern for Frankstown students was that police closed Juniata Valley Road to investigate five crime scenes involved with the shootings.
"They didn't get the road cleared. For all students who ride the bus going through Juniata Valley Road, we called their parents and the students were picked up," Gallagher said.
Williamsburg Community School District Superintendent Linda Smith, about 20 minutes away from Juniata Valley Gospel Church, said she was aware there was a shooting but had no information from police to lock down.
"I'm always worried about it," she said. "And after what happened last week. We have a crisis plan, but how are you going to fight something like that?"
With no warning from police, Williamsburg schools remained open until their regularly scheduled early dismissal at 11:30 a.m. for elementary students.
"We did not receive the call to lockdown," Smith said.
The Blair County 911 center or state police would have made that call, she said.
At Hollidaysburg Catholic, Spencer called parents on the school's emergency phone system to direct them to enter their child's classroom to pick them up.
"Always err on the side of caution," she said.
Staff at Hollidaysburg Child Development and a preschool in Hollidaysburg made sure no one was let into their buildings who weren't supposed to be there, but children were allowed to leave the buildings.
A worker at Good Beginnings Preschool, a mission of First Presbyterian Church, Hollidaysburg, mentioned the shooting to Pastor Chuck Monts, but he learned from news reports that it had been contained by police.
"Obviously, after the event in Connecticut and now this," Monts said. "We are gong to investigate what we can do to provide a more secure space."
Hollidaysburg Catholic's lockdown came a day after parents were sent a letter stating staff are always evaluating safety, Spencer said.
"After the lockdown, I met with faculty and staff to discuss things we did right and things we can do better," she said. "It's not something you want to do every day, but we have safety drills every month."