A man who appears to be armed approaches a school campus. Law enforcement arrives. With the school on lockdown, terrified family members seek to get inside to reach the children.
Like the early moments of what unfolded in March in Uvalde, Texas, that sequence during a scare in Arizona on Friday led to heated exchanges between parents and relatives of schoolchildren and the authorities. But then the confrontation took a different turn. In the end, three people were arrested, two of whom were shocked with stun guns, after they tried to enter the grounds of Thompson Ranch Elementary School in the city of El Mirage, the police said.
The man who prompted the lockdown was taken into custody, and no children or teachers were hurt. But in the wake of Uvalde, the clash involving parents represents a disturbing view of the rage and the distrust that can make a school crisis even more chaotic.
The Arizona authorities said that officers arrived at the scene shortly after someone there reported a man who appeared to have a handgun and was trying to gain access to the school. The man then fled in an unknown direction. Officers sought to make sure there was no longer a threat on the grounds, during which time they discovered a suspicious package that the police said was “ultimately examined by explosives technicians and rendered safe.”
But as concerned parents and relatives began to arrive, one person who was prevented from entering the school had an altercation with officers, the police said. Two other people joined in, prompting officers to fire their stun guns and take all three into custody. One of them was injured and taken to a hospital, the authorities said.
The identity of the suspect in the lockdown was not revealed on Sunday. He was being evaluated by mental health professionals, and criminal charges were pending, the police said. The names of the people who were arrested in the altercation were not available on Sunday.
A video of the confrontation posted on social media shows parents and relatives shouting and pushing themselves against officers. At one point a clattering sound can be heard, and seconds later the video shows a handgun on the ground near one of the parents. The crowed scatters as the police fire stun guns and begin making arrests. A streak of blood can be seen on the pavement near one man as he is handcuffed, moaning in pain.
In an account given to KPNX-TV in Arizona, Darlene Gonzales, whose daughter was inside the school, said that after parents were told the lockdown threat was over she and her son sought to enter the school but were told to go the library. At that point, she said, the situation escalated and she was thrown to the ground. She added that the gun that was seen in the video belonged to her son.
Chief Paul Marzocca of the El Mirage Police Department said that those involved in the altercation had broken the law and bore responsibility for what had happened.
“One doesn’t get to create this chaos at a school in an emergency situation and walk away,” he said.
Many people responded to Chief Marzocca’s statement with expressions of support for the police response. “Parents need to control themselves when officers are trying to work,” said Lori Jones, who said she lives about 30 minutes from El Mirage, in a comment on the Police Department’s Facebook page. “Set an example for your children!!”
But some residents sympathized with the frustration that parents might have felt. One commenter said that the reaction was “a direct byproduct” of what had happened in Uvalde.
Ron Avi Astor, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies school violence, said that such clashes between parents and public officials were a symptom of deteriorating confidence in law enforcement to handle situations like the one in El Mirage.
“You can see these parents don’t trust the police because of everything they’ve seen or heard,” he said. And unless that perception changes, he said, it is likely that more relatives and bystanders will continue to try to take matters into their own hands.
But widespread news media coverage of situations in which the police response to a shooting is heavily criticized, as in Uvalde, creates a narrative that is not necessarily representative of how the police tend to handle these situations, Dr. Astor explained, adding that the police must help change that narrative.
“They have to be honest, they have to be trustworthy and they have to have the right approach around it,” he said of the police. “I think that’s how you build trust.”