Parents and students embrace outside Hillcrest High. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Police officers, emergency responders and parents raced to Hillcrest High School on Thursday in response to a report of shots fired on the campus that was later deemed to be a false alarm.

Police and emergency crews learned about it from an anonymous 911 caller who phoned in the false report. Parents and family heard from students who texted and called as they took cover once the lights went out inside the north Springfield school. 

Soon after the 911 call was made, Hillcrest families received word that there was no indication shots had been fired on the campus. 

“Again, everyone at Hillcrest is safe at this time,” the message read. Parents and students reunited later in the afternoon, but not until after a tense race to the school grounds.

Parents rushed to school

Family members waited at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds while emergency responders evacuated students. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Adam McMahan’s daughter texted him from the Hillcrest school library and told him that what she first thought was a drill wasn’t a drill.

Then she called him.

“They shut the lights out, and it is legit,” he said she told her. “A little nerve-wracking.”

McMahan joined scores of parents in rushing to the school as soon as he heard from his child inside the building. As he drove from Brighton to the school, McMahan said he stayed on the phone with his daughter.

“I was on the phone with my daughter trying to give her tactical advice,” he said. “That’s all I can do is, you know, make sure she’s behind a chair or table if she’s not going to leave, which I told her to do. Sometimes the better course is to be close to an attacker, so that you can blow past them. That’s all I could do was try to keep calm for her, and try to help her think tactically.”

(Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

By the time he arrived at Hillcrest around 12:30 p.m., word that the initial 911 call about shots fired being a false report was already spreading. McMahan joined parents on the outside of the school — waiting for reunion with his daughter. Seeing students being led out to the football field, and having to watch them gathered on bleachers while he and other parents waited — was a frustrating experience, he said. He told his daughter to keep her eyes open and be ready to duck under the bleachers, just in case.

Springfield first responders coordinate with SPS

(Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Stephen Hall, SPS spokesman, said the decision to escort students to the football field was a direct response to the specific incident.

“What we did is worked closely with the guidance of law enforcement,” Hall said. “And so the Springfield Police Department and Springfield Fire Department established a command center just outside of the school. And we had district officials present in real time for those decision-making processes. So in this circumstance, that was determined to be the best approach. Once they determined it was safe to remove students from the building, they did that.”

Before students were escorted to the field, they were locked down in the school. Hall said officers swept every room in the Hillcrest building as part of the effort to confirm that the 911 call was a false alarm.

Springfield police sent patrol officers, detectives, investigative units and other available officers to assist Springfield Public Schools, which has its own police force.

“When a call like this comes in, everybody is going to that location,” SPD spokesperson Cris Swaters said. “SPS, SPD, we are all going to that location, treating it as if it is happening until we have reason to believe otherwise.”

Police: Man causing a disturbance was arrested

The rush of law enforcement, emergency responders, parents and family to the high school led to a chaotic scene outside the building. Once word spread that the shots fired call was a false alarm, pressure built for some as they waited to reunite.

One man was arrested near the fence to the football field. Swaters said he was arrested on suspicion of causing a disturbance near the football field and resisting arrest.

McMahan, the parent quoted earlier, said he saw a disturbance outside the football field and shared a video with the Daily Citizen showing three police officers escorting a man away from the field. In the background, a woman can be heard shouting in frustration that she couldn’t reach her kids.

The field served as an interim staging area before emergency officials deemed it safe to begin reuniting students with family members. The first wave of students was escorted to meet with family members who had rushed to the school shortly before 2 p.m.

Students who bused to school were set to leave at the regular departure time, Hall said, and students who drove to school would be the last wave to leave Hillcrest.

PHOTOS: From the scene

Photojournalist Shannon Cay Bowers captured scenes from outside Hillcrest High on Thursday, November 3, 2022.

Emergency responders are on scene. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson

Jeff Kessinger

Jeff Kessinger covered sports in southwest Missouri for the better part of 20 years, from young athletes to the pros. The Springfield native and Missouri State University alumnus is thrilled to be doing journalism in the Queen City, helping connect the community with important information. He and wife Jamie daily try to keep a tent on the circus that is a blended family of five kids and three cats. More by Jeff Kessinger