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Herald JournalHerald Journal, April 11, 2005

St. Mark School gets a scare

By Dave Cox

Fears fueled by the recent Red Lake shooting and other incidents magnified school staff concerns about a situation in New Germany on the morning of April 1.

St. Mark Lutheran School Principal Darryl Giesselmann and fifth and sixth grade teacher Linda Edmison came to Tuesday’s council meeting looking for answers to questions about the Carver County Sheriff’s Office handling of the incident at the school.

The situation began when Edmison noticed two males, that she believed to be between 16 and 19 years old, hanging around outside the door to the playground during school hours. The students were not current or former students of the school.

Edmison asked Giesselmann to investigate.

Giesselmann said that he approached the boys and explained to them that they should not be on school property. While he was talking to them, he observed them looking behind him, which led him to believe there were other youths in the area. The two left after Geisselmann talked to them.

He later saw a third youth on the roof of the school.

Giesselmann stated that he believed the youths are residents of the area and were on spring break from Chaska Co-op High School.

Inside the school, Edmison heard someone running on the roof. She said that she was nervous because she did not know what was going on. When she heard someone on the roof, she immediately gave the keys to the secretary to lock the doors while she called 911.

Meanwhile, Geisselmann confronted the third youth. Geisselmann told the juvenile that he needed to stay and speak to the deputy, who was on his way.

Giesselmann said that the youth initially argued, but did stay for 10 or 15 minutes before he took off running.

Giesselmann and Edmison said it was 25 to 30 minutes before the Carver County Sheriff’s Deputy arrived on the scene.

Edmison said it was very frustrating to see the deputy drive into town at 30 mph in response to the situation.

“We had no protection at all,” Edmison said, describing the period while they waited for the deputy.

“The child never took his hand out of his coat pocket. He was calm at first, then he started pacing and spitting, pacing and spitting. He could have had a gun. It was horrifying. We could have lost our lives,” Edmison recalled, still obviously shaken by the incident.

Sgt. Mark Williams was at the meeting to represent the Carver County Sheriff’s Office.

Williams stated that the call was taken by the dispatcher at 10:50 a.m. and the deputy arrived at 11:06 a.m., indicating a response time of 16 minutes rather than the 25 to 30 alleged by Giesselmann and Edmison. He said the deputy who responded came from Waconia and was the closest car when the call came in.

Williams acknowledged that it always seems longer when someone is waiting for assistance. He also said that it is normal procedure for a deputy to slow down when approaching the scene.

“The worst thing you can do is to come blazing in with red lights and sirens . . . you slow down and start looking around,” Williams said, adding that if someone is fleeing a scene, this procedure allows the deputy to spot them.

Williams also stated that the sheriff’s office has five levels of call priority, and this was classified as a level two.

This angered several people, including Mayor Franklin Schoenke.

“I don’t see why this was categorized priority two. There were a lot of kids involved here,” Schoenke said.

Williams explained that priority one is reserved for “a confirmed immediate threat,” such as a heart attack, and level two indicates “a possible threat.”

Williams stated that it is not uncommon for the sheriff’s office to receive complaints about kids on roofs.

Giesselmann replied that while it might be a common occurrence for the sheriff’s office, this was the first time in his 16 years as a school administrator that he has had to deal with a child on the roof.

Edmison stated that she was concerned about the fact that the deputy did not go up on the roof to investigate what the child had been doing up there or to find out if he had left anything up there.

“I spent the rest of the day wondering what was up there,” Edmison recalled.

Giesselmann stated that the deputy did ask him if there was an inside stairway providing access to the roof, but there is not, and that was as far as it went.

Council Member and Fire Chief Steve Van Lith said he would have been happy to bring a ladder over if the deputy wanted to investigate the roof area.

Van Lith stated that he and firefighter Dan Ruschmeier did check out the roof later that day, but did not find anything.

Williams said that the deputy who responded to the call reported that he had talked to the youths involved in the incident.

Giesselmann questioned why the deputy did not investigate the roof and why he did not come back and talk to him after he had located the youths.

Williams stated that he had been in Florida at the time of the incident and did not receive any information about the situation until 4 p.m. Tuesday, and he was unable to answer those questions, but agreed that it would have been a good idea for the deputy to come back and talk to school officials to alleviate their fears.

The question was raised as to why Williams was representing the sheriffs’s office, rather than the deputy who had responded to the call.

City Clerk Shelly Quaas stated she spoke to Sheriff Bud Olson Monday, and again first thing Tuesday, to give him plenty of notice to have his department represented at the meeting.

In closing the discussion, Schoenke expressed frustration with the sheriff’s office.

“We have had several complaints of the sheriff’s office doing shoddy investigations. We may not pay the most for our police contract, but when we have an emergency, we need service,” Schoenke said. “If the problems don’t change, maybe we need to contract with another city in the area for police service.”

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