Colorado Teacher’s Account of Mistaken School Lockdown Goes Viral: ‘I Cowered in a Closet with My Fifth Grade Students’

A Colorado teacher's tweets went viral after she thought her school was experiencing a lockdown because of an attack on Tuesday.

“I am a teacher, today I cowered in a closet with my fifth grade students. I locked doors and switched off tech,” tweeted Colorado teacher Ali Kemp after her school reportedly went into lockdown mode.

Subsequent tweets revealed a harrowing, moment-by-moment account of Kemp reacting to the lockdown announcement of “this is not a drill.”

She writes in one tweet, “if today would be the day” she would use her training to be a “fighting target so others can escape.”

Soon after, her tweets revealed that the school had made a mistake. Thirty seconds later, the school was on “lockout” because of a "neighborhood incident."

"Thank god. A simple miscommunication. But for thirty seconds, it had been real. Not a drill. Thirty seconds of blood pounding in my ears. Of students’ eyes on the ground. On the closet doors. On my face," she said in another tweet.

“Schools are placed on lockout anytime there is police activity in the neighborhood, and it's a standard safety practice,” an official from Denver Public Schools told Newsweek

The official was unable to confirm where the incident happened, adding that lockouts happen "frequently" in its more than 200 schools. While it usually lasts just a few minutes, doors are locked and no one is let in or out, the official said.

In the scenario of a lockdown—a step up—calls can’t be made and electronics are shut off.

“We always have regular drills—that’s a practice that’s already been in place. We’re on top of school security,” the official says.

In the aftermath of last month's deadly attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed, authorities have worried about copycat attacks.

In the week after, the Educator's School Safety Network found threats were being made on an average of 50 a day, according to an NPR report.  

“After these events, it brings up a lot of emotions about what it means to be an educator, educators want to keep their students safe, there are a lot of emotions going on,” said Melissa Brymer, director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, to Newsweek.

A wave of these moments happens, and educators have to deal with trauma “in the most effective way,” she said.

Nine out of 10 public schools across the U.S. conduct mass shooting drills. Twenty states have laws that enact lockdown drills in all of its public schools, and 30 states have "broad emergency plans" that may include lockdowns.

But living in the environment of crisis preparedness can also add to the anxiety, Brymer said. While the debate on active-shooter drills dates back almost 20 years, since the Columbine High School attack, reports make evident the psychological trauma on those who go through them, prompting some to question tactics and what can be improved.

Past cases show that drills and planning save lives, but it's also important to look at how they're carried out, Brymer said.

“It's honestly better to have announced drills,” Brymer said. “Unannounced drills can cause a confusion, the goal and purpose of a drill is to make sure everybody knows what to do, our main job is to educate and to learn. We don’t need it to be the scariest situation where it’s unannounced.”

She points out that, in that case, should an emergency truly happen, teachers won't be left guessing. Many drills could potentially delay response times and cause greater confusion, if in the likelihood an emergency situation is actually underway.

Newsweek also reached out to Denver police, who referred us to Denver Public Schools regarding reports of the lockout.

Kemp declined an interview request from Newsweek.