A Park Ridge father is unhappy with how his child’s school handled a recent incident involving a man considered suspicious by police and staff at nearby Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.
According to Park Ridge Deputy Police Chief Lou Jogmen, on the morning of Friday, Oct. 4, police received a call from Advocate Lutheran General Hospital that a man seeking treatment in the emergency room had abruptly left after refusing to take off his coat for medical staff.
“There was no confirmation that he had a weapon, threats made or a reason to make us believe he was going to do anything to harm anyone,” Jogmen said.
Still, police informed the two schools in the area — Maine East High School at 2601 W. Dempster St., and Franklin School, 2401 Manor Lane, located several blocks southwest of the hospital — of the information that had been received, including a description of the man and that he was last seen on a bicycle.
Jogmen said the man was described as African-American, in his twenties and wearing “a few coats.” Police have since identified him and confirmed that no crime was committed.
Chris Kueppers believes students should have been kept in class, there should have been police stationed outside Franklin, and that parents attending a Walk-a-Thon on the school grounds Oct. 4 should have been informed that Park Ridge police were looking for a man who had recently left the hospital’s emergency room under unusual circumstances.
“I don’t understand how the school is put on ‘soft lock-down’ when all of the students are outside for a school fundraiser without a police presence,” Kueppers told the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate. “To me, that doesn’t make sense.”
Jogmen said police presence was increased in the area of the schools and hospital, though no officers were specifically stationed outside Franklin School. Maine East High School has a school resource officer on the premises each day.
Dave Beery, spokesman for Maine Township High School District 207, said Maine East took a “heightened security alert,” but he did not classify it as a “lockdown.” A field trip departure was delayed, but there were no other reported impacts, he said.
An email to Franklin School parents from Principal Dan Walsh, sent that same day of the incident, indicated that police had monitored the situation and the school was advised to continue the Walk-A-Thon event. A follow-up email from Superintendent Philip Bender, sent to parents on Oct. 10, also stated that the school was told by police that it could continue the Walk-A-Thon as scheduled because there was no threat or crime committed in the area.
Bender’s email also stated that the school was advised to go into a “soft lock-down,” a procedure in which the building is locked at all times and any students outside are directly supervised by school staff. This is something each district building is required to follow each day as a routine security measure, the email stated.
Bender maintained this week that the school’s response was appropriate and was in line with district security procedures.
“There was never any danger to anyone,” Bender said.
“We think it was an appropriate response,” Jogmen said. “I don’t think it was an over- or under-response. Given the information we had, the lack of a credible threat, the lack of an indicated weapon and the fact that it happened in the general vicinity of the schools, I think the soft lock-down was appropriate.”
Bender’s email to parents said that there were four police vehicles “in visual sight of the Walk-A-Thon” and that officers “were keenly aware of the site at all times during the Walk-A-Thon.” But Kueppers, who said he attended the Walk-A-Thon, disputes this.
“There were 15 to 20 parents there and no sight of police, ever,” he said.
Kueppers also claims he saw the front door of the school propped open at one point instead of closed and locked from the outside.
Kueppers reached out to Police Chief Frank Kaminski, Bender, Mayor David Schmidt and 2nd Ward Ald. Nicholas Milissis with his concerns and complaints.
Milissis met with police officials on Oct. 11 and after receiving a rundown of the events and actions taken by the police department, he said he was satisfied with the law enforcement response.
“I think they made the right call,” he said, adding that Officer Matt McGannon, who initially alerted the schools, “was being proactive.”
In an email to Kueppers, Milissis pointed out that “other than being loud and causing a short commotion at the ER, (the man) was not deemed to be armed or dangerous and did not threaten or harm anyone.”
Jogmen described the incident as a lower-level alert and, though police wanted to inform the schools, they did not want to create a panic or overreact to the situation.
“We really have to use (alerts) with care, but we want (the schools) to be informed about what’s going on in their area because it can rapidly evolve and things can change quickly,” he said.