A man who appears to be armed approaches a school campus. The police arrive. With the school closed, terrified family members seek to get inside to reach the children.
Like the opening moments of what unfolded in March in Uvalde, Texas, this footage during a scare in Arizona on Friday led to heated exchanges between parents and relatives of schoolchildren and authorities. But the confrontation then took a different turn. Ultimately, three people were arrested, two of whom were shocked with stun guns, after attempting to enter the grounds of Thompson Ranch Elementary School in the town of El Mirage, police said.
The man who caused the lockdown has been taken into custody and no children or teachers were injured. But in Uvalde’s wake, the clash involving parents represents a disturbing view of the rage and mistrust that can make a school crisis even more chaotic.
Arizona authorities said officers arrived at the scene shortly after someone reported a man who appeared to have a handgun and was trying to gain access to the school. The man then fled in an unknown direction. Officers sought to ensure there was no longer a threat on the ground, during which time they discovered a suspicious package which police say was “eventually examined by explosives technicians and made safe”.
But as worried parents and relatives began to arrive, one person who was barred from entering the school got into a run-in with officers, police said. Two other people joined, prompting the officers to fire their stun guns and arrest the three of them. One of them was injured and taken to hospital, authorities said.
The identity of the containment suspect was not revealed on Sunday. He was being assessed by mental health professionals and criminal charges were pending, police said. The names of those arrested in the altercation were not available on Sunday.
A video of the confrontation published on social networks shows parents and loved ones yelling and jostling with officers. At one point, a clicking noise can be heard, and seconds later the video shows a handgun on the ground near one of the parents. The crowd disperses as police fire stun guns and begin making arrests. A trail of blood can be seen on the sidewalk near a handcuffed man, moaning in pain.
In a report to KPNX-TV in Arizona, Darlene Gonzales, whose daughter was inside the school, said that after telling parents the threat of lockdown was over, she and her son sought to enter the school but were told them to go to the library. At that point, she says, the situation escalated and she was thrown to the ground. She added that the weapon seen in the video belonged to her son.
El Mirage Police Department Chief Paul Marzocca said those involved in the altercation broke the law and were responsible for what happened.
“You can’t create this chaos in a school in an emergency situation and walk away,” he said.
Many people responded to Chief Marzocca’s statement expressing their support for the police response. “Parents need to control themselves when officers try to work,” Lori Jones, who said she lives about 30 minutes from El Mirage, said in a comment on the police department’s Facebook page. “Set an example for your children!!”
But some residents sympathized with the frustration parents might have felt. One commentator said the backlash was “a direct by-product” of what happened at Uvalde.
Ron Avi Astor, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who studies school violence, said such clashes between parents and officials were a symptom of deteriorating trust in law enforcement. order to handle situations like El Mirage.
“You can see that these parents don’t trust the police because of everything they’ve seen or heard,” he said. And unless that perception changes, he said, it’s likely that more loved ones and bystanders will continue to try to take matters into their own hands.
But the wide media coverage of situations in which the police response to a shooting is heavily criticised, such as in Uvalde, creates a narrative that is not necessarily representative of how police tend to handle these situations, explained Dr. Astor, adding that the police must help change this narrative.
“They have to be honest, they have to be trustworthy and they have to have the right approach,” he said of the police. “I think that’s how you build trust.”