An undercover television news story to test security in local schools triggered a lockdown Thursday at Kirkwood High, angering parents and raising questions about media ethics.
Students and teachers at the school were huddled in classrooms with the lights off for about 40 minutes Thursday afternoon after a man came into the school and asked to speak with security.
The visitor initially gave his name and cellphone number and when the secretary left to get the school resource officer, the man left the office, Kirkwood district spokeswoman Ginger Cayce said. Administrators became alarmed when he asked the location of a restroom, left the office, but went a different direction.
When they called his cellphone, he did not answer, but his voicemail said he was a KSDK reporter. Cayce said she tried three times to confirm with the news station that the man was actually with KSDK with no success.
Students were huddled in locked classrooms with the lights off for about 40 minutes before Cayce heard back from KSDK that the reporter came to the school to test security measures with a hidden camera.
“We learned some things from this, but we are still dismayed that a call was not given after to let us know this was a test,” Cayce said. “We could have prevented the alarm to our parents, students and staff.”
Many parents, who spent the lockdown in a panic, criticized the station’s tactics to get the story.
Stacey Woodruff said she was in tears when she first heard about the lockdown, and spent the entire time communicating with her 14-year-old daughter, who was in math class, on her cell phone. She said her teacher was keeping the students calm.
“She kept saying, ‘Mom, I’m OK,” Woodruff said. “When I found out it was KSDK, I was and still am livid.”
Among the Kirkwood students on lockdown was freshman Caroline Goff, 14.
“We got the announcement over the intercom . . . then the principal walked by and said, `You need to lock the door and turn off the lights.’ ”
The students were instructed to stand against the walls, out of the sight from anyone passing in the halls. Caroline said they stood and listened for close to an hour, worrying that sounds they were hearing outside – including what were apparently police on the roof – were the noises of a gunman.
Ask KSDK on Twitter via their official handle or News Director Mike Shipley. Who OK’d this assignment? It’s now a reporter’s job to terrify parents and students? I’ve heard from a number of friends of mine, parents with children in this very school, who spent their afternoon terrified. Their children were terrified. One remarked on facebook that her child was pressed up against the wall in a dark classroom with the shades pulled for an hour.
KSDK released an even more insulting statement, withholding explanation as a way to lure people to their 10 pm broadcast.
This is “journalism?”
*UPDATE: KMOV identifies the KSDK reporter as John Kelley.
*UPDATE #2: Student paper The Kirkwood Call has audio of the message the school left on parents’s voicemails. (h/t David James)
*UPDATE #3: Parents are livid. From Facebook:
As a parent in the Kirkwood School District, I am livid. My son will be at Kirkwood High School next year. The Kirkwood School District did everything right. This reporter, as well as the newsroom, was completely irresponsible and thoughtless.
- Robyn Reinheimer Thomas
*UPDATE #4: KSDK admits at the top of its newscast that it pranked not just one, but five schools to “test” security. The reporter, John Kelly, claims he ID’d himself as a reporter. Parents I know who have students at Kirkwood High School dispute this. Parents also say on Facebook that KSDK is lying about how soon Kirkwood High School went on lockdown. Parents say it was “immediate.”
(Thanks to Jimi Pirtle for the tip)