Following a day of tragedy in which Lula Elementary School was locked down for three hours, the school principal sent a letter to Lula families praising the calm actions of students, teachers, parents and sheriff’s deputies.
Matt Alexander, principal of Lula Elementary, said Tuesday that the emergency lockdown Monday went "smoothly," and students were locked safely inside classrooms away from windows as they rehearsed in lockdown procedures last school year.
Lula Elementary School was locked down from about 9 a.m. until noon Monday after an armed Lula resident was spotted within two blocks of the school.
"It couldn’t have gone any better than it did," he said. "That’s the reason you practice. You hope for the best, but you prepare for the worst."
Gary Stewart, executive director of administrative services and school safety for Hall schools, said the district requires all schools to have a lockdown procedure and to practice it at least once within the first month of every school year.
Alexander, who began his first year as Lula Elementary School principal Thursday, said students will practice the lockdown procedure within the first month of school. The principal said he has received many positive e-mails and phone calls from students’ parents about how the school system and sheriff’s department responded.
Hubert Stanley Tate, 65, was seen Monday walking through downtown Lula carrying a large-caliber handgun that he pointed at an off-duty Gainesville police officer who approached him at about 8:40 a.m. Later, Tate was engaged in a standoff with the Hall County SWAT Team just one block from Lula Elementary.
Hall County sheriff’s Sgt. Kiley Sargent said it seems that Tate was not intending to do the school harm, but the off-duty Gainesville police officer who first spotted Tate with a handgun saw him leave downtown Lula in the direction of the school. Sargent said the school, as well as several streets near downtown, were locked down as a safety precaution.
A 911 dispatcher notified the elementary school office at about 9 a.m. of the armed man two blocks from the school, said Hall County schools spokesman Gordon Higgins. Higgins said the school immediately went into lockdown mode, with all the doors to the school locked and students secured inside classrooms from about 9 a.m. to shortly after noon, when Tate was taken into custody and taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center for gunshot wounds.
Hall County sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Strickland said Tate died shortly after he arrived at the hospital.
After the brief confrontation downtown, where no shots were fired, the off-duty Gainesville police officer followed Tate to his camper residence on Banks Street. Tate barricaded himself inside, and the Hall County SWAT Team surrounded the camper by about 10:45 a.m. Sargent said SWAT Team members attempted to communicate with Tate, requesting his peaceful surrender.
But Tate fired upon the SWAT Team, wounding deputy Joe Groover, 35, in his right arm. Just after noon, Tate was killed by shots from the SWAT Team, Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials said. Strickland said the GBI is investigating the incident.
Alexander said in his letter to families that sheriff’s deputies responded quickly and surrounded the building "and kept all of us safe." He also thanked parents for their patience in following school procedures as they arrived shortly after the standoff ended around noon Monday with Tate dead and one sheriff’s deputy wounded.
"Many parents chose to come to the school as soon as the lockdown was over and all were patient and followed the school’s procedures," Alexander wrote. "By following school procedures we (were) able to resume instruction. The students seemed to handle this situation very well ..."
Stewart said he was in the school with Alexander throughout the morning, and observed about 90 percent of teachers instructing students once Tate was contained in his camper. Alexander said Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic visited him Monday morning to discuss the school lockdown and continued to update the principal on events as they unfolded.
Alexander said the school day continued. He said the school counselor and social worker are on hand each day to help answer students’ questions and to help them cope with the events of the difficult day.