False alarm: No gunman found at Davis-Monthan
A report of an armed intruder led to a day-long lockdown
False alarm: No gunman found at Davis-Monthan Video by kgun9.comvideo
D-M Building 4300. Courtesy KNXV.-TV. Image by KNXV
Personnel clad in SWAT type gear approach building 4300. Courtesy KNXV Image by KNXV
Detail from helicopter photo of SWAT-style personnel approaching building 4300 Image by KNXV
Reporters: The KGUN9 News team
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It's official: after an extensive search, no armed intruder has turned up at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Shortly before 6:00 PM, Col. John Cherrey addressed the media about circumstances surrounding the day-long lockdown. He said the lockdown began at 10:30 AM and lasted until about 4:00 PM, after someone reported an armed intruder. Working with local law enforcement, officers conducted a thorough search of the building where the gunman was thought to be hiding.
"No gunman or weapon was found," Cherrey said. "And the building was declared secure."
But false alarm or not, Col. Cherrey defended the response. "I'd lke to emphasize that all threats, all reports and threats regarding the safety and security of our airmen, our base and our family are taken very seriously."
Col. Cherrey also explained the base's day-long secrecy. "Information regarding the ongoing operation were restricted to protect operational security."
Cherrey said base security officers worked with local and federal law enforcement personnel to conduct a room by room and floor by floor search of the building in question.
That official announcement followed a 4:51 PM statement from D-M announcing an end to the lockdown. "Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel, Tucson Police and Fire Departments as well as other emergency services personnel provided support to D-M personnel as they worked to investigate the situation," the statement said.
The 4:51 PM statement did not specifically say whether or not investigators found any such intruder. But it went on to say, "With the help of the Tucson emergency services communities, Airmen were successful in maintaining the safety and security of the Desert Lightning Team. "
The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, NBC News and others, citing unnamed sources, reported earlier in the day that an armed man was holed up in a building on base. A late afternoon Associated Press report that was published after the lockdown ended continued to refer to the incident as a "barricade situation." Law enforcment officers use that term to describe situations where a suspect is holed up and refuses to come out.
A reliable law enforcement source told KGUN9 News Friday afternoon that the sighting that prompted the scare may have started with something as simple as someone spotting a landscaper carrying a hedgeclipper.
Regardless of what started the incident, the response was intense. Around midday SWAT vehicles could be seen entering the base. Activity appeared to be concentrated in a structure identified as building 4300, said to be an old dorm building now used for Civil Engineering.
A helicopter crew from KGUN9 news partner KNXV-TV of Phoenix observed a file of several people wearing SWAT-style military clothing approaching the building early in the afternoon. The chopper was flying about five miles outside the base, and was using a telephoto lens to see the action.
The first indication that something was up at the base came shortly before 11:00 AM, when the KGUN9 News desk began receiving calls from people who said they were on lockdown inside the base. Some of the callers said they'd heard an official announcement on a public address system saying that a shooter or shooters had fired shots in the Civil Engineering building. One caller said she was inside the BX store on base when she a P.A. announcement. She said it stated that the store's doors were being locked because of reports that a man was on base armed with an AK 47. Other callers told similar stories.
Though word of the lockdown appeared to spread like wildfire on the base, off base it was another story. Initially, base public information officers reached by KGUN9 News provided no confirmation of the lockdown. Shortly after an initial story was posted on KGUN9.com, Davis-Monthan provided a brief statement to the media confirming the lockdown but giving no other information. Eventually the base did clarify that no shots had been fired and that no one had been hurt, but it released no other information about the supposed intruder until 4:51 PM, nearly 6 hours after the lockdown had begun.
In its late afternoon statement, D-M explained why it had been so secretive all day: "Information release of the ongoing operations were restricted to prevent the suspect from seeing or knowing what measures were being taken. "
Tuscon Unified School District operates Borman Elementary School on base. The lockdown initially prevented parents from pickup those children. Late Thursday afternoon the base issued a press release stating that parents could now pick up those children using the Wilmot gate only.
That press release followed on the heels of a posting on the base's Facebook page stating that it was working on a release plan for the children. The message read in part, "For those asking if the lock-down is over please be patient as we work through this and wait for an official announcement. The safety and security of everyone on this base is paramount."
The lockdown also created problems for TUSD students who live on base but who go to school off base. A TUSD spokesperson told KGUN9 News that those children would not be able to return home while the lockdown was underway. KGUN9 News reporter Kevin Keen visited Palo Verde High School, where several D-M students attend class. Keen reports that school officials would be staying with those D-M students untill they had been cleared to return to D-M.
Recapping: Davis-Monthan is no longer on lockdown. The lockdown began at 10:30 AM after someone reported an armed intruder. But an extensive search turned up no such intruder. Earlier reports by some state and national media claiming that an armed suspect was holed up on base turned out to be false.