“Gangster” argument on social media resulted in school lockdown

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A 17-year-old male who posed with what appeared to be a gun on social media forced a lockdown at Ruder Elementary School Tuesday afternoon.

The male, who was known to police prior to the incident, had been going back and forth with an individual who lived out of state about being a “gangster” in Montana, Columbia Falls Police Sgt. Sean Murphy explained.

The out-of-state person claimed there were no gangsters in Montana. The conversation escalated and the 17-year-old said they should settle the matter in the school parking lot, Murphy explained.

The out-of-state person then notified police.

The teen lives near Ruder, Murphy said and police made contact with him and his guardians. He does not attend school in Columbia Falls.

There was no threat to the school and the gun was an apparently airsoft gun — an airgun that, depending on the model, looks a lot like real weapon. Police found no weapons, Murphy said.

The case has since been referred to the county attorney’s office. The teen’s name was not released.

The school was on a “soft lockdown” from 2:15 p.m. to 3:25 p.m. while police sorted out the matter and patrolled the school.

During the lockdown, students remained in their classrooms as the school day continued. Police patrolled the building until dismissal and students were safely on buses, Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said.

“We try not to scare kids,” Bradshaw said. He noted that no one was on the playground at the time, but he did accompany a class from the gym, which is located in a separate building back to the main school building.

The district alerted families to the situation through automated messages after school let out. Bradshaw said the decision on when to alert families is done on a case-by-case basis. In this instance, Bradshaw said there were concerns that alerting families earlier would create a larger issue for police and people’s personal safety if too many people congregated in the parking lot.

“We felt there was more danger in alerting parents too early in case someone did show up in the parking lot with a gun,” Bradshaw said.

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