Arkansas tragedy sparks Le Sueur memories

LE SUEUR, Minn. (AP) — Just as in Jonesboro, Ark., the children here remember the rumors of a school shooting before it happened.
It was last September when students at Le Sueur-Henderson High School, a little more than an hour southwest of the Twin Cities, began talking about 16-year-old Corey Lehnert. They said he had told them he had a hit list and that he was going to shoot staff and students at school who angered him.
But unlike the Arkansas school tragedy in which two students stand accused of fatally shooting four students and a teacher, a teacher at the Le Sueur school overheard the rumors and alerted school administrators.
A day later, when the armed Lehnert came to school, they were ready.
A police officer was grazed by a bullet but students or staff were left unharmed.
“This could happen any day, any time, any place in America,’ said Principal Joe Brown.
Many of the Le Sueur-Henderson High School students didn’t take Lehnert’s threats seriously, even though he had been suspended for a year for brining a sawed-off shotgun to school and had had many run-ins with students and staff.
Still, the school took the threats seriously. The next day, Sept. 11, they locked all but one door in the building. Some were chained shut. The main entrance remained open, but guarded by staff.
The staff attended an early morning briefing where a teacher alerted administrators that Lehnert had stolen his parents’ car the night before. Meanwhile, the students were only told that they were undergoing a security drill.
Only five minutes before students were to be let out for their next class period, Lehnert ran through the main entrance. A custodian and a social studies teacher gave chase, followed by Officer Tom Nelson. A secretary announced over the intercom that everyone should remain in their rooms.
In the end, a custodian locked the boy in an upstairs bathroom where Nelson eventually found him. As Nelson searched the stalls, Lehnert fired at him with a stolen semi-automatic pistol.
Nelson emerged, bleeding profusely but leading a handcuffed Lehnert. Later, authorities learned Lehnert also had a loaded assault rifle in his car.
Since then, school officials have spoken to other educators about September’s events. They’ve also updated their crisis management plan.
Brown said school administrators now keep a closer eye on students who they believe could become violent — they’re not allowed to wander the hallways alone during classes — and they do more locker searches.
Before sentencing Lehnert to almost 13 years in the adult prison system in February, Judge Philip Kanning expressed frustration, knowing he couldn’t restore the school’s sense of security.
“I’m wondering how many of us really take the time to measure the impact, Corey, of an incident like this,’ Kanning said. “Not just on our personal lives, but on the lives that we choose to lead here in this state, and I’m somewhat regretful to think that we don’t.”