Fairfax County authorities are trying to determine precisely how a student from West Potomac High School entered nearby Mount Vernon High School and allegedly stabbed another student earlier this month, authorities said.
At a public safety meeting at Walt Whitman Middle School the following week, Fairfax County police said that the student believed to have carried out the stabbing attended West Potomac High School. The student was charged with trespassing and aiding in the wounding, police said. His name has not been released.
Fairfax Police said on Monday that detectives believe another student not involved with the incident let the suspect into the building.
Fairfax County Police Capt. Fred Chambers said at the public safety meeting that it’s possible the student entered Mount Vernon High School because students at both schools sometimes go back and forth for different classes, but the matter was still being investigated.
“A lot of the schools in the county have different courses. Whether they have an academy or an auto mechanics class, so you have students that go back and forth from each school, and that could be one of the reasons,” Chambers said. “That part I don’t know for sure, but that part is still being investigated.”
Julie Moult, a spokeswoman for Fairfax County Public Schools, said that as with other incidents, the district’s Office of Safety and Security “conducts additional after action reviews for the purposes of learning and improvement.”
Chambers said that those involved knew each other and had had previous encounters.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘relationship,’ but they had previous encounters with each other, so this was not a random act of someone just showing up and doing something to a student,” Chambers said.
Some parents had expressed frustration with initial communications about the stabbing.
Mike Wendy said that after he noticed emergency vehicles at the school, he tried texting his daughter, but she didn’t immediately respond. He said he then checked his email and saw an initial message from JoVon F. Rogers, Mount Vernon High’s acting principal, which described an incident that happened in a restroom.
“My daughter hadn’t responded yet. It was likely okay, but I was a little nervous,” Wendy said. He said his daughter eventually responded to let him know everything was fine.
Wendy said he later read a news account in which police described a shelter-in-place order being put into effect at the school, but his daughter did not hear any such instruction to do so. “There was certainly a deficit of information,” Wendy said.
Authorities said students were not actually asked to shelter in place, but the building was put on a different status of heightened alert.
Moult, the school district’s spokeswoman, said officials implemented a “secure the building” mode that lasted “a number of minutes only, until police, security, and school administration determined that the threat was no longer in the building.”
A Fairfax County police spokesperson said that an officer initially reported that there was a “shelter in place,” because that and “secure the building” are sometimes used interchangeably.
But the spokesperson conceded that different verbiage might have been clearer.
Fairfax County Public Schools uses a “secure the building” procedure to prevent unauthorized entry if a possible threat is discovered outside the building, according to information the district posts online. A “shelter in place” procedure is used to temporarily separate people from a hazardous outdoor atmosphere.
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said at the public safety meeting that police try to release facts about public safety incidents at schools as rapidly as they can.
“The faster we can get that out there, the better, but we want to get accurate information out there,” Davis said. “If we get inaccurate information out there and we have to walk it back, that erodes trust in the community for us.”
Hannah Natanson contributed to this report.