False report of Indian gunman forces Rapid City lockdown 4-18-07

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - A 15-year-old boy who lied about a gunman roaming the Rapid City Central High School parking lot on Tuesday is facing criminal charges in juvenile court, but that might be about as much as the public will ever find out about the teen.

The boy told a security officer Tuesday morning that he saw a man with a gun on school property, prompting officials to lock down the high school and all other public schools in the city for the morning. Central students were taken to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, where they eventually were reunited with their parents.

The boy confessed to the lie during questioning at the police station and was sent to juvenile detention, police Capt. Ed Hofkamp said.

``The student is arrested, and he'll be placed in our juvenile services center pending juvenile court action,'' Hofkamp said. ``He'll be charged with false reporting and disruption of school.''

The charge likely would be misdemeanor with a top punishment of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine if an adult were involved. But the juvenile court system works differently.

Technically, it's not considered punishment, but rehabilitation, Attorney General Larry Long said Tuesday.

``It has more of a singular focus than the adult system, and the more singular focus is rehabilitation,'' Long said. ``And that's almost the only focus. The theory is that this child can be rehabilitated before he becomes an adult and the focus of the system changes.''

Part of the rehabilitation is protecting juvenile offenders from public scrutiny and ridicule, Long said. Except for rare cases involving the most serious crimes, proceedings for juvenile offenders are closed and their names protected.

It's unlikely the teen's name or what happens in juvenile court will ever be officially revealed, Long said.

The response by law officers and emergency crews was expensive, disruptive and nerve-racking to parents, but Hofkamp said it wasn't money, manpower or energy wasted.

``The ultimate goal in any of these situations is to protect lives. That's just what occurred today. It was a false report, but everybody went home OK,'' he said.

Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead watched news reports of the episode and said Rapid City authorities responded appropriately - especially considering the shooting of 32 people by a gunman at Virginia Tech the day before.

Also, Friday is the eighth anniversary of the Littleton, Colo., school shooting.

``I think law enforcement and schools across the nation are at a higher state of alert because of all that. We know that sometimes an incident like that can prompt copy cats,'' Milstead said.

Meanwhile, the false report stirred concerns about racial tensions because the youth claimed the mythical gunman was an American Indian.

Robert Cook, a Lakota who teaches at Central in the Lakolkiciyapi room, a program for at-risk ninth-grade students, said the criminal stereotype was disheartening.

``It's real unfortunate that the allegation was made that it was an American Indian,'' Cook said.

About an hour before the lockdown, Cook and his students had smudged with sage and offered a moment of silence for the students at Virginia Tech.

``Normally, I wouldn't do something like that, but today I did. It was just so ironic, that then an hour later it happened in our school,'' he said Tuesday.

Marvel Handboy, a Central parent, said she worried about racial tensions being fanned by the report that it was an Indian.

``What is happening in this school?'' she said.

Harry Brenden, assistant superintendent in Rapid City, said there were no racial overtones.

``This has got absolutely nothing to do with race. The kid made a false report. He had his five minutes in the sun. We'll take disciplinary action that's appropriate,'' Brenden said.

Central parent Jim Doyle agreed. ``I think it was just a kid's story,'' he said.