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Fears of attack put Chamberlain High on partial lockdown

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:04 PM
TAMPA -

Chamberlain High went on partial lockdown today and was guarded by police officers amid fears the North Tampa school might be targeted by a Columbine-type attack.

Uniformed and plain-clothed Tampa police officers fanned out on the Chamberlain campus, at 9401 N. Blvd., after learning that a patient had checked out of a local mental health center and had been hearing voices telling him to harm the students there.

Police officers know where the man is, but because he has not made any threats or committed a crime, investigators see no immediate need to speak to him, said Laura McElroy, a police department spokeswoman.

"We take all matters like this extremely serious," McElroy said. "Since June 5 [the day the man was released from the crisis center], we have had a heightened presence at the school to keep kids safe."

The Tampa Tribune is not identifying the 39-year-old Tampa man, because he has not committed a crime.

On May 29, the man checked himself into a Tampa mental health center, Tampa police Cpl. Kert Rojka said.

During a counseling session, the man told a counselor he was hearing voices that encouraged him to harm Chamberlain students and then shoot himself, Rojka said.

A counselor at the mental health center notified police and said the man had reported pricing firearms at a nearby pawn shop, Rojka added. But police say there is no evidence he bought or has a weapon.

The man has been to prison in Florida and New York, and his criminal history includes arrests for armed robbery, aggravated assault with a weapon, battery and possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

As a precaution, the Hillsborough County school district also placed two nearby schools – Adams Middle and Forest Hills Elementary – on modified lockdown until Friday, the last day of school, school district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Under a modified lockdown, all outdoor events are canceled, but students and teachers are permitted to move about campus to conduct indoor activities, she said. However, due to extra security, Adams Middle and Forest Hills Elementary might be permitted to resume outdoor activities for the half-day Friday.

Last week, Chamberlain parents received a photo of the man and were asked to keep an eye out for him, Cobbe said. After school officials learned the man had been released from the mental health center, they told parents the full story.

Classes at Chamberlain went on as planned today. School was dismissed early, as previously scheduled. The school building and campus parking lots were mostly empty by 12:30 p.m. today.

Chamberlain student Valentina Chapman, a 17-year-old junior, learned about the school lockdown when announcements were read today, she said. A friend told her the reason for the lockdown later, but it seemed like a normal day, she said.

"I was a little nervous on the walk home from school," Chapman said.

kknight@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7413

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