Gun fears trigger lockdowns

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

An armed man, parked in his pickup truck and distraught over his impending divorce, prompted a stealth response Tuesday morning from Cape Girardeau police and prompted lockdowns at a nearby hospital and elementary school.

Police were on the scene around 9:30 a.m. after the man, Randy Allen LeGrand, 27, of Jackson, put a revolver to his head as he sat in his pickup behind Cape Girardeau Mayor Al Spradling III's law office.

LeGrand eventually handed over the weapon to his attorney, Stephen Southard, who works in the Spradling law firm at 1838 Broadway. Police took him into protective custody at 10:29 a.m. and later sent him to the Mineral Area Regional Medical Center in Farmington, Mo., for a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation.

Missed court date

LeGrand went to the law office to meet with Southard and then go to his divorce proceeding, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the Common Pleas Courthouse in Cape Girardeau. But LeGrand never made it to court.

Plain-clothes police officers discreetly kept watch over him for about an hour both inside and outside the law office as motorists sped by on Broadway, unaware of the drama playing out several yards away.

But others were acutely aware of the potential danger. Police notified surrounding businesses, Southeast Missouri Hospital and three public schools -- Central Junior High and Central High School and Franklin Elementary School.

The schools and the hospital are a few blocks from the law office.

Officials at the hospital and Franklin Elementary School locked down their buildings for about a half-hour as a precaution.

Southeast Missouri Hospital locked all its outside doors, except for the emergency room and main lobby entrances. Hospital security officers stood guard at both entrances.

At Franklin Elementary School, principal Rhonda Dunham ordered a lockdown. Outside doors were locked to prevent anyone from entering, and students were locked inside their classrooms. Students in portable classrooms were moved into the school building.

"It was just a safety precaution," Dunham said. Teachers didn't tell the students about the armed man.

"The children just thought it was a drill," she said. The decision to do the lockdown was made almost immediately, and it lasted about a half-hour.

But administrators at the junior high and high schools didn't lock the doors.

Dr. Dan Steska, Cape Girardeau public schools superintendent, said police didn't recommend a lockdown.

"We didn't feel we needed to overreact to it," he said. "I think it would have alarmed the students, and it would have escalated the problem without bringing any resolution to it."

Steska said a lockdown at the high school or junior high would be more of an ordeal than at an elementary school because students are changing classes and not confined to one class all day.

The high school's principal, Mike Cowan, agreed.

"The last thing you want to do is create unnecessary panic for large groups of people," said Cowan.

School officials stayed in constant communication with police, Cowan said. A police officer already assigned to the schools stationed himself between the junior high school and the law office to monitor the situation.

"We had constant radio communication," Cowan said. "If there would have been any sense of imminent danger, we would have moved into a lockdown situation instantly."

Attorney's alert

Police went to the law office after Southard alerted the mayor to the problem and Spradling called police.

Police in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles converged on the parking lot. Several officers entered the law office. Others watched LeGrand from a distance.

Southard called the judge in the divorce case and asked for a continuance. The judge granted it.

LeGrand eventually drove his pickup truck onto the driveway on the west side of the law office. Southard went outside to tell LeGrand that the divorce case had been continued. LeGrand then handed the gun to Southard, and the two men walked into the law office where police were waiting.

They handcuffed LeGrand and led him out a side door and into a waiting police car. He was taken to the police station, where he was evaluated by a counselor from the Community Counseling Center.

'Danger to himself'

Sgt. Rick Schmidt said LeGrand never threatened officers or anyone in the law office. "We took him into custody because he was a danger to himself," Schmidt said.

Schmidt showed up at the scene dressed in jeans. A plaid flannel shirt covered his bulletproof vest.

"During the time he was sitting in the back, we were coming up with a plan to make contact with him," Schmidt said. "I thought I might have to negotiate with the individual."

But the incident ended peacefully without any negotiations.

Spradling praised the actions of the police officers. "They did a wonderful job," he said.

Schmidt said police didn't react any differently at the mayor's office than they would in any similar situation anywhere else in the city.

Schmidt said LeGrand didn't resist when he was taken into custody.

"I don't want anyone to think he is some type of raging individual," Schmidt said.

Police also took LeGrand into protective custody June 27 along the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, where he waded in armed with a machete.

Schmidt said LeGrand was distraught over the divorce even then.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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