Just after 10 a.m. Thursday morning, Evanston Township High School sent an emergency alert to the parents and families of students announcing that the school was on lockdown due to an apparent safety threat.
“Safety alert! Evanston Township High School is on lockdown,” the email notice said. “If you are in the building, go directly to a room and secure it. Anyone not in the building should stay away. Traffic congestion will delay emergency vehicles.”
According to the Evanston Police Department, an ETHS school resource officer was alerted of at least two students smoking marijuana in a bathroom around 9:30 a.m. While apprehending those students, the officer discovered backpacks containing two loaded guns and marijuana, police said.
At that point, EPD dispatched additional officers to the high school, who advised the school to go into lockdown while they detained suspects and searched and secured the building, a Thursday afternoon email sent to families by Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said.
Police determined that there was no active shooter, no shots had been fired and no students were injured, according to Witherspoon and EPD representatives. Officers located and detained all individuals involved, EPD said.
Message from Mayor Daniel Biss on ETHS lockdown
Read the mayor’s message here.
During the lockdown, students spent several hours locked in classrooms with the blinds shut, many of them uncertain about what exactly was transpiring at the school. Multiple videos posted to Tik Tok and circulated among students showed police officers searching classrooms and arresting suspects. Around 12:30 p.m., some students threw a sign out of a classroom window that said they were bored and wanted to go home.
Outside the building, EPD and officers from nearby communities, including Northbrook and Glencoe, secured all roads adjacent to the high school. Dozens of parents lined up in cars outside ETHS, waiting for police to allow their students to exit the school.
After EPD officers completed their search of the building and gave an all-clear signal, ETHS dismissed students at 12:40 p.m.
EPD also updated residents and families throughout the ordeal via its Twitter feed.
Police said there were no ongoing incidents at other public and private schools in Evanston, and District 65 lifted a precautionary soft lockdown at King Arts, the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center and Dewey Elementary.
At 1 p.m., just after the school dismissed students for the day, EPD Commander Ryan Glew led a press conference outside ETHS.
“I would like to open by saying this is an active investigation,” he said. “It is still ongoing. Even though the students have been released and there is no active threat, we will not be taking questions at this time.”
According to Glew, EPD’s preliminary investigation indicated that the event was not related to the Nov. 28 shooting on Green Bay Road.
Kelley Gandurski, the interim City Manager, added that the Evanston City Council will be holding a special meeting Monday night on the lockdown as well as gun violence and community outreach.
Glew said EPD will provide more updates as they become available.
ETHS teachers also confirmed to the RoundTable that the remaining class days before winter break will be held remotely due to an ongoing spike in COVID-19 cases among staff and students.
The shift to online learning for the next week of school days was already in the works before Thursday’s lockdown at the high school, according to sources in the building.
The building will be open Friday during regular school hours for students to pick up their Chromebooks and personal belongings.
“Please be assured that we will continue to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our students and staff at ETHS,” Witherspoon said in his Thursday afternoon message to the community. “We recognize that this has been a very difficult day in a very difficult time at ETHS.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.