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Officer who sparked concern of shooter at Mayo High School was St. Paul-based corrections worker

The Rochester Police Department clarified that although the Mayo scare originated because of a mistake, local law enforcement is not limited to handling one crisis at a time.

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Law enforcement respond to Mayo High School for a person with a gun call Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in Rochester.
Dené Dryden / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — The person who was seen armed at Mayo High School last week, causing a lockdown while authorities were already handling a separate shooting scare at Lourdes High School, was a St. Paul-based corrections officer.

The events at both schools happened Sept. 21. The Lourdes scare was part of a nation-wide spree of false reports to law enforcement about shootings at schools.

The Mayo scare happened when an officer was responding to the Lourdes situation and arrived at the wrong school. A student saw the officer and subsequently told school officials they had seen a person with a firearm, prompting the lockdown.

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The combined events drew a range of reactions to law enforcement. Officers drew praise for their swift response to the Lourdes event. At the same time, the confusion at Mayo High School caused concern from both school officials and parents.

"It's very concerning. At a time when RPD was appropriately focused on Lourdes, anything that diverts police or law enforcement resources away from that is a big deal," Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Kent Pekel said on Sept. 22. "That's a really precious resource that you do not want to have diverted at a moment when a crises might have been happening."

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According to DOC representative John Melvin, the officer at the source of the Mayo lockdown was a St. Paul-based corrections officer who was already in the Rochester area executing warrants. Although RPS' statement from the day of the event said the student only reported seeing one person, Melvin said there were two officers together at the time.

Although they were in the area for other reasons, the DOC officers shifted their attention to help with the Lourdes situation. The reason they responded to Mayo High School instead was the result of a miscommunication.

"I think they were closer to the Mayo school, and they (the radio) just said, 'We're responding to the high school,' so that's why they went there," Melvin said of the officers who responded to Mayo. "They were there for probably 30 seconds when they pulled in the parking lot."

The call claimed six children had been shot by a man with body armor and an AK-47

Pekel said the school's surveillance footage showed the officer briefly getting out of the car and that his firearm was visible from the footage. Melvin said the officers were in vests marked "police."

"Our investigator had gotten out of the car, and that's why I think the call went in to dispatch," Melvin said. "But he was just transitioning his weapon so they were ready to respond to what the community needed at the time."

Amanda Grayson, spokeswoman for the Rochester Police Department, said the department would conduct a review of the day's response, both internally as well as with other agencies "to fully evaluate last week's events in order to identify and address opportunities to do better."

Pekel said the school district would undertake a similar process, even though the school responded to the possible threat the way it was supposed to.

"From the RPS standpoint, things at Mayo, and actually at our other schools, worked exactly as they should," Pekel said.

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The combined events from the Lourdes-Mayo incident prompted a multiagency response, including the Rochester Police Department, Olmsted County Sheriff's Office, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers, Rice County Sheriff's Office, Minnesota State Troopers and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Grayson clarified that although the Mayo scare originated because of a mistake, local law enforcement is not limited to handling one crisis at a time.

"It's also important to note that while the Mayo incident required resources, RPD is prepared to rapidly respond to multiple calls for service simultaneously," Grayson said. "Even during significant critical incidents."

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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