March 13, 2009
STARKVILLE -- The Starkville Police Department is investigating a suspicious incident at Ward Stewart Elementary School involving an unidentified black male. Several children were playing a game of hide and seek in a grassy area located behind the school at around 12:30 Thursday afternoon when a man appeared inside the fence in the area where they were playing. The children immediately alerted their teacher of the incident, and a police officer arrived at the school within minutes.
The entire campus was placed under lockdown. After police conducted a thorough investigation of the area, the lockdown was lifted around 1:45 p.m. Children returned to their normal schedules, but they did not go outside to the playground area for the remainder of the day.
Henderson Intermediate School also was notified of the situation and placed under lockdown since it is located on the same campus as Ward Stewart Elementary School.
The police officer investigating talked to five students who were playing together at the time of the incident. All of the students identified the suspect as a black male in his 20s to 30s and about 5 feet, 11 inches tall with braided hair. The man was wearing a blue sweatshirt, and the children believed he drove away in a small black car.
Ward Stewart Principal Diane Baker contacted all of the parents of the children involved.
"The Starkville School District''s first priority is always the safety of our children, and we will take every precaution necessary to protect all of our children and provide them with safe environment for learning and playing," said Superintendent Judy Couey.
Following Thursday''s incident, SSD contacted a company to clear all of the brush behind the school to allow teachers a better line of sight while supervising their children during recess.
Baker planned to speak to all of the teachers during a meeting immediately following school Thursday about safety measures which should be taken while students are outside, including setting more defined playground parameters.
The district also plans to build a fence between the parking lot area and school property to deter individuals from attempting to walk onto campus.
"The Starkville School District fully recognizes the seriousness of this incident as does the Starkville Police Department," said Couey.
"We will immediately begin the process of working to construct a fence and clear the brush," Couey added.