Two Rotonda West schools were placed on lockdown on Tuesday afternoon due to an armed man in the vicinity. But, the incident was a false alarm. The man was hired to hunt invasive iguanas and was armed with pellet guns.
The suspect, a 35-year-old man, was in custody but not arrested. Upon authorities learning of the potential danger, within 12 minutes Vineland Elementary School and nearby L.A. Ainger Middle School were placed into lockdown.
Sophie Eichenberger, a 7th grader at L.A. Ainger Middle School, said students were huddled, silent in classes.
“It was kind of bone-chilling,” Eichenberger said. “Some kids kind of crying and I don’t blame them. That was kind of scary.”
The man was seen within the vicinity of the two schools around 3:30 p.m. and appeared to have a firearm. According to the CCSO press release, soon after the suspect was detained, the schools were cleared and the students were released to their parents.
“Everybody came crying and running to each other,” said Joslyn Roman, an 8th grader at L.A. Ainger Middle School. “And we were all praying and thanking God that nothing actually happened.”
Deputies on the scene later “educated” the suspect on the proper procedures to take prior to hunting. They also put him in contact with a local iguana hunter who does it properly, such as wearing a bright green vest and to contact law enforcement before tracking down the invasive animal.
Jim Preston and his wife, who live nearby, spoke with the man a couple of weeks before the incident about what the suspect does with the dead iguanas.
“He feeds his pigs, he eats this stuff himself,” Preston said. “But somehow it ended up on the internet and people call him and he’ll come. And if you got a problem, he’ll take care of it for some money.
“This guy’s an innocent man,” he added.
In a statement, CCSO Sheriff Bill Prummell, said he is proud of the response of his deputies while there was a “perfect storm” of students being dismissed and parents picking up their children.
“I understand the emotions parents are going through when learning your child is potentially in danger,” Sheriff Prummell said. “We, along with the schools, have plans in place for such situations.”