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“False Alarm”

Staff and students look back on Piketon school intruder scare eight years later

It was a typical afternoon in March of 2016. The school day had just ended at Piketon High School, and students were loading onto their buses to return home. Student-athletes were readying themselves for practice, and the children of the faculty were hanging out in their parents’ offices, waiting for them to finish the remainder of their work. I waited for my father to finish his duties as the school district’s technology coordinator so my younger sister and I could go home. I remember walking down the small, white hallway connecting my father’s office to the library and central hallway of the school to use the bathroom. I heard the familiar monotone screech of the intercom before hearing an announcement. I didn’t slow my pace as the speaker crackled to life. Plenty of announcements were made after school. “So and so, your ride is here” or “Mr. teacher, please report to the office.” These were the messages I had grown used to. As I opened the heavy wooden door, which made its signature creaking noise, I heard a message I never expected to hear from that old speaker: “There is an intruder in the building.” At first, I was frozen in place, wondering why they would call an intruder drill after school. That was when I began to hear the clamoring of footsteps echoing out from the hallway I had just exited. I ran back in and was confronted by two high schoolers and the librarian. She frantically jiggled her key ring, desperately trying to find the key to the storage closet. She unlocked the door and motioned us inside before slamming it, turning off the lights, and locking it. We each took a corner of the room, nestling ourselves deep into the shadows in hopes that we wouldn’t be seen by whoever was stalking the school. The other young man sat next to me, and we surveyed the room in an attempt to find anything that remotely resembled a weapon: office supplies, a small grey plastic cart, pencils, and rolls of colorful paper far too large to wield. We looked at each other, silently agreeing that if someone were to walk through that door, there was nothing we could do but pray. 

JEFF REUTER is the principal of Piketon High School 

“I’m on my way home from an SVC [Scioto Valley Conference] meeting, and I’m getting a couple phone calls. I’m just like trying to relax after it. My wife had called me three times, and I was like, uh oh, something is going on. So I answer the third one. She asked me where I was at. I said I was on my way home. She then asked me if nobody had told me, to which I asked, ‘Told me what?’ She had explained everything that was going on. Needless to say, I punched it. I got there as fast as I could, and by the time I got there, there were three or four counties’ worth of law enforcement. Now, remember, I’m from a generation where bomb threats were once every month-and-a-half to get us out of school. It was ridiculous even for the ’80s and even ’90s when I was teaching. I’ve been through so many empty threats. I partly thought that this was an empty threat. But the sound of my wife’s voice, my daughters being there. That alerted me that this was real.”

ALLY SHAW was a science teacher at the school and still teaches there.

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“I was upstairs finishing up some grading, the girls were downstairs in the locker room getting ready. I left my classroom, walking down the hallway to go change [for track], and I heard Mr. Owens [the assistant principal]  get on the intercom and say that there’s an intruder in the building. As staff, we knew that we didn’t have anything planned, and it’s after school, so I’m thinking, oh, this is real. We would practice [drills] all the time, but we were always told in advance. I ran back into my classroom and locked the door. My sister was in her classroom downstairs. I picked up the phone and called her, asking if she was all right. We stayed on the phone together.” 

Being a science teacher, Ms. Shaw’s classroom had a myriad of different tools within it. Specifically, there was a box of assorted tools that was gifted to her by the previous science teacher. This box lay dormant in her classroom as she had never had any use for anything in it besides a rock hammer that she would use to pry open the bucket of frogs used for classroom dissections. At that moment, she went to the box and grabbed that rock hammer. It looked like an ordinary hammer one would use to pound nails into a board, except this hammer had a sharp, chisel-like end used to split open rocks. As she gripped the hammer, she hid in an alcove to the right of her door. She then heard the sound of her door.


“All I know is that I thought I had locked my door, but I heard my door unclasp, and I saw the barrel of an AR-15 leading into my classroom. I knew in that moment if I don’t fight, I wasn’t coming out alive. Regardless, either the gunman was going down, I was going down or both. So I pop out from behind the corner, and I’m on the downswing. I see something shiny, and it’s a badge. The AR-15 points at my chest, I’m screaming, he’s screaming, everybody was screaming, and then he [the officer] yells ‘Whoa!’ I was able to stop my swing before anyone got hurt.”

This was not the only time that officers did not announce themselves as they cleared the high school. The police had split into two groups as they entered the high school. The key difference was that one group entered rooms while saying “Police!” and another was silent. The group that failed to announce themselves found heavy resistance by teachers who had barricaded and armed themselves with whatever they could find in their classrooms. One teacher had slammed two large history books into one of the officer’s heads. 

BRYCE MORGENSEN was an 8th grader. He is now a senior at The Ohio State University studying pre-med and biology. 

“It was a very typical day at school. Classes had just ended, and I went to the health room for quiz bowl practice. That day, we had pizza and pop during practice and had a lot of fun. Suddenly, over the intercom, we heard, “There is an intruder in the building. There is an intruder in the building.” If I’m being completely honest, my first thought was, ‘It’s a drill.’ Our quiz bowl coach did everything she should’ve. She had us gather under the computer desks and turned the lights off. Still not thinking it was real, I crawled to the pop to protect the Dr Pepper. It wasn’t until we’d been sitting there for about 20 minutes that reality sank in, and I knew this was not just a drill. My phone was dead, so I couldn’t contact my parents. I thought, “Why would we have a drill after school has let out?” At this point, I just felt very nervous. It was still weird because it was after school, and we hadn’t heard anything since. After what felt like an hour had passed, we heard movement in the room beside us. My heart sank. The teacher looked at us and said “They’re looking for them.” This was a little reassuring, but I didn’t know how sure she was. The next thing I know, the door to our room opens. The first thing that entered, without a word being spoken, was the barrel of a rifle. In this moment I thought to myself, ‘This is it. I’m going to die. I’m trapped in the back corner of this health room with no way of escape or defending myself.’ That was when the police officer finally decided to announce himself and told us we were OK. The next thing I remember is walking out of the building to my mom’s car. I got in the car, and she started crying. I told her I was OK and nothing had happened, and she calmed down after a minute. I got a stern talking to about keeping my phone charged after that.”

JOSH AMATO SR. is the technology coordinator for Scioto Valley Local School District. 

“I can’t remember if I was out helping the buses leave or what. Call came in, and the kids had already left, so we ran into the building. It was quite amazing how every law enforcement person from several counties converged on the school instantaneously. Anyone who heard that alert going out booked it to the high school. There wasn’t a lot of staff at the time, so they [police] needed someone to go room to room to clear the building. So I was like, ‘I got a master key. I have a key to everything.’ We went through the building and into the rooms, even the closets. Course, if we found any kids, you know, we’d say, ‘Hang tight.’ Course, in my mind, I was just opening up the door, so I naturally took the lead, and they [police] had to say, please get behind me a few times. I wasn’t really thinking that I’d encounter the gunman. We cleared every nook and cranny, and I had four or five law enforcement behind me, some with AR-style rifles and some with sidearms. We were all very thankful that it was a hoax. It was one of those things where, obviously, I was concerned not only for my children, who were in the building, but also, you know, all the other kids that were in the building. I just went into it as sort of a ‘This is my job right now,’ and I really focused on that. I really don’t think I had time to have any emotions until after because I had a sort of narrow focus. Your job is to clear the building and protect kids. You just go into automation mode, where you just don’t really have time to dwell on the danger.”

As the school was being cleared, I was still hunkering in the storage closet. At that moment, I was unnaturally calm. The reality of the situation I was in had clicked within my mind, yet I was never once scared. While my heart never raced, my mind was flooded with thoughts. Why haven’t we been contacted on our phones? Have the police shown up?  I had checked my phone to contact my parents. I had texted my father first, knowing he was outside when this happened. I received two simple words in response: “Stay put.” I then saw a notification above my screen. My mom had texted me that everything would be OK and that she loved me. Eternity had felt like it had passed me by long ago, and I had started to unblinkingly stare at the dull white L.E.D. light that fell to the floor from the door window. We then heard the creaking of the door that led into the hallway and the loud slam that accompanied its closing. Soon after, the small ounce of light that filled the room was snuffed out, and we were plunged into darkness. It was then, and only then, that my heart truly began to race, and the fear I had been keeping in check began to rear its head. The door handle started to jiggle, and I heard the sound of keys before the door opened, and the dark barrel of an AR-15 peered into the room. We all began to rise from our hiding spots, having gained the courage to go out fighting with nothing but our bare hands. That was until law enforcement announced themselves, and I heard my father’s voice: “You guys all right?” We were then escorted to the gym, where all the other students and staff had been taken. It was explained to us that it was a false alarm and that the school was clear. I was reunited with my sister, her eyes noticeably red from crying. One by one, each student was escorted by two officers, rifles in hand, until each student had been picked up by a guardian. My sister was the first to enter my mother’s silver Honda Odyssey, and I followed behind her. As my mother thanked the officers, I buckled my seatbelt, and we drove off. My sister blankly stared out the window as I looked into the rearview mirror and my mother’s eyes. They, too, were red. All I could think back then was: “What a day.”

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