WASHINGTON, MO (KTVI) – Students and parents in Washington, Missouri had quite a scare Tuesday when all public schools in the city were put on lockdown as police chased a suspect they said was carrying a rifle near an elementary school.
Shortly after 12:00pm, a Franklin County narcotics officer noticed a driver passing cars so wildly on Highway A, near Krakow, some drivers were forced to the side of the road.
The officer pulled over Derrick Howard Junior, 24, of Union, Missouri. During the traffic stop, police say Howard asked the officer to approach his vehicle. The officer declined and Howard again asked the officer to come to his vehicle. When the officer refused a second time, they say Howard got in his vehicle and fled. The deputy chased him.
The pursuit went to Diener Road outside Washington where Howard eventually pulled onto a dead end street and took off into a wooded area on foot.
The sheriff’s department says the officer observed the suspect get out of the vehicle and flee on foot wearing camouflage clothing and carrying what appeared to be an automatic weapon with a banana clip.
Deputies responded to the area along with Washington police and the Missouri Highway Patrol. The Sheriff’s Office Air Unit also responded.
The woods where police say they saw Howard flee on foot are near West Elementary School in Washington. On the advice of law enforcement, the district decided to put the school on lockdown.
When authorities lost track of Howard, the decision was made to lockdown all of Washington’s public schools until he was caught, which happened about 45 minutes later, when a resident on Holtgrewe Road contacted police and stated that they believed they saw the suspect cross Holtgrewe Road.
A Franklin County Deputy was in that area and responded to the location. He and a homeowner began checking a residence in the area. The deputy spotted the suspect hiding behind the residence where he was taken into custody without incident. He had removed the camouflage clothing and did not have a weapon. The suspect stated he did not have a weapon but was carrying a stick. Police say Howard later admitted that he did have a weapon.
Officers found an SKS rifle in the woods, along with 30 rounds of ammunition which they say Howard admits were his.
“I was very happy with the way our staff handled themselves, how our kids handled the situation and how everything unfolded,” said superintendent Lori VanLeer. “I am very pleased.”
While older students report very few of their classmates were worried during the lockdown, it was frightening for some of the younger students, particularly in light of last week’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
“It was scary,” said first grader Gracie Whitaker. “We had to turn out the lights because if they snuck in they wouldn’t see our legs sticking out.”
Her older brother, fourth grader Gage Whitaker, was also worried.
“I was afraid that they were going to try to break in to the school, and I’m glad God was there with us today,” he said.
Howard was driving on a revoked license and had active warrants for traffic violations. According to sheriff’s deputies, a shotgun and drug paraphernalia were found in his vehicle. He will face traffic charges as well as a charge of resisting arrest.