Officials, police review response to burrito scare

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The underlying seriousness of the Marshall Junior High School burrito scare has not gone unnoticed by school officials and law enforcement agencies. The two groups critiqued last week’s response to the now infamous incident in a meeting Thursday at the school.

“This was an opportunity for the different agencies that were involved to share ideas and for the school to better understand why police do things the way they do,” said Sgt. Jim Schoeffel of the Clovis Police Department.

Schoeffel declined to comment on specifics of the police department’s response. The meeting, he said, was a forum for discussion, but it did not result in the alteration of any police procedures.

Within minutes of receiving a call from a concerned citizen who feared a student might have entered the school with a gun, four departments — the New Mexico State Police Department, the New Mexico Motor Transportation Department, the Curry County Sheriff’s Department and the Clovis Police Department — launched a concerted response. Armed patrolmen circled the school’s points of exit and entry, while others blocked surrounding roadways.

The alleged weapon was exposed as a 30-inch burrito that eighth-grader Michael Morrissey created as an extra-credit project. He had wrapped the burrito in tinfoil and a white T-shirt to keep it warm.

Clovis schools superintendent G.C. Ross said he was pleased with the way the Marshall administration and staff and area law enforcement handled the incident.

“I was only two blocks away (at the central office) and by the time I got there police had already locked down the school and were conducting room-to-room searches,” Ross said.

“For two hours it was a very serious situation. Once we found out what it was it was such a relief. But I guarantee you for two hours it was a serious situation and it is still a serious situation.”

Ross said most of the discussion Thursday centered on technical aspects of the response and enhancing communication between all the agencies involved.

He said Clovis police have agreed to attend the school district’s Administrative Council meeting next week to talk with administrators and principals to discuss emergency procedures.

Marshall Junior High Principal Diana Russell said the school will continue to work closely with police in order to ensure their own policies regarding threats are effective. One school policy, she said, has changed as a result of the burrito scare.

The change in policy comes as a result of multiple telephone calls from parents who talked with school secretaries who had little information about the situation at Marshall Junior High.

“All they (secretaries) were told is that it was a code blue (lockdown) and they didn’t know if it was a drill or not,” Russell said.

“We will now let parents know if there is a legitimate threat,” Russell said.

Ross said he would like to see parental staging areas be established at each school where law enforcement and school officials could keep the public updated during an incident.