When parents at Mountaineer Middle School got a call on Wednesday, telling them the school was on a code red lock down and law enforcement was on the way, many grabbed the keys, hit the road, and didn't waste a second getting to the middle school to find out more.
"I was glad that they called and let me know something was going on. I wish it would have said a little more. Wish it would have told me that all kids are safe and accounted for," said Kim Watson, who's daughter is a student at Mountaineer Middle School.
Parents who called the school or the board office were unable to get further than a busy signal.
Kim Watson was one of many parents who waited outside. Watson said she waited nearly two hours before she got to see her daughter, Marlee.
"I'll be the first to tell you, we can do a much better job communicating with parents and the media to get the word out on these situations when they happen," said Mike Queen, President of the Harrison County Board of Education.
Kids inside the building didn't know much more than the parents and those outside of the building.
"I knew something was wrong. We were rushed kind of at lunch. As soon as the last person dumped the tray, we were rushed to our classrooms. We couldn't go to our lockers or anything. As soon as we got into our classrooms, everyone got settled. They called code red over the intercom and were silent for about two hours. No one really told us what was going on or anything," said Marlee Watson.
Parents flooded board members and administrators with calls and emails, stressing their frustrations and concerns on Wednesday. Queen said he received more than 110 emails before 6 p.m. on Wednesday night.
While most parents found out about the code red through a phone call or a text message, Queen said the Board of Education website should be parents' first stop for information, but even that was sub par on Wednesday.
"It was on the website, it wasn't in a very prominent place. Again, that's one of the things that we learned," Queen said.
Queen acknowledged the lack of available information on Wednesday, and said that officials need to do a better job informing parents and media outlets in similar situations in the future.
"We clearly have to do a much better job of communicating. Parents will cooperate if they know what's going on. If we don't tell our story when these things happen, Facebook and social media will step in and tell the story for us. Nine times out of ten it will get it wrong, and it causes a lot of stress and tension for parents," Queen said.
Kim Watson said she heard numerous rumors on what was going on inside and what happened earlier in the day, in just the short time that she waited outside. Her daughter said she her several rumors at school, too.
While Queen said Wednesday's automated recording should have been more detailed, he said parents should still sign up for the service. Messages are school-specific and can be sent by text message or through a phone call. Parents can sign up for the free service by contacting the principal's office at their child's school. Queen reminded parents that they need to sign up again if their child changes schools.
After Wednesday's code red alert, some parents found themselves unsure of what "code red" meant.
"A code red means a lock down of each classroom, and the school. No one comes or goes," Queen said.
Law enforcement and the school then started their investigation, before downgrading the alert.
"Then they go into a code yellow, like a red light, is a caution. It's not a code red, not as severe as a lock down. What it means, is the investigation at the school is ongoing," Queen said.
Once that is complete, schools issue a code green.
"Once everything is safe, they will issue a code green, which is resume the normal school day. So we went from red, to yellow, to green yesterday," Queen said.
But the lack of communication isn't all that is upsetting some parents at Mountaineer Middle School. Parents like Kim Watson still want answers regarding how a gun ever made it into the school in the first place.
"I understand that kids are juveniles, I understand there are laws and stuff. But I want answers on how in the world can a child bring a gun," Kim Watson said.
"Is it easy to sneak a gun into a back pack, or a knife, or a weapon? It is. We don't search everyday. I'm not advocating that we set up metal detectors," Queen said.
Queen said he does not believe metal detectors are necessary.
"I don't think that's the kind of community we live in. Is it possible? Obviously, it happened yesterday. Is it preventable? Yes, it is preventable. I think that parents knowing what's going on, students knowing penalties for bringing weapons to the school. I think we do a good job at, considering this is one event that happened in a very long time. It can happen, it will happen, from time to time, unfortunately," Queen said.
Queen said the county initiated preventative measures years ago, but that didn't last for long.
"We don't have metal detectors; we do not require kids to have plastic backpacks anymore. Parents came to us a couple years ago, after the Columbine situation calmed down, everyone seemed to feel kids could use regular backpacks," Queen said
Queen said he understands the concerns parents have, as he is a parent himself. While there are no guarantees, he believes parents need to trust the school system.
"As a parent, I have to believe the school system is safe, our school buildings our safe. As I parent, I know I have to do my part. I worry like the other parents," Queen said.
Queen said the board will discuss how to improve communication methods at its work session on Tuesday at 5 p.m. Queen said the community is encouraged to attend and offer insight on what should be done in the future.