A barefoot man stepped off a county school bus, walked into Stafford High School’s cafeteria, and helped himself to a breakfast pastry.
The 26-year-old intruder was soon reported to school resource officer Deputy Melinda Warnick, who immediately took the man into custody without incident at 7:50 a.m. Thursday.
“It’s insane that a 26-year-old man was able to get on a bus and get into school,” said Brian Stanley, whose stepdaughter and son attend Stafford High School. “If the man had ill intent, this could have been real bad.”
Sheriff David Decatur said the man was transferred to a medical facility for evaluation shortly after the incident and has not been charged. His name is being withheld.
The bus was operating in the area of Lansberry Drive in southern Stafford when it picked up the man. School officials declined to release the name of the bus driver.
Sherrie Johnson, Stafford schools’ communications director, confirmed the man was picked up 100 feet from a designated county school bus stop after allegedly signaling his desire for a ride.
“He had his hand up,” Johnson wrote in an email. “During the first week of school, this is not an unusual practice for drivers to stop when a student is near the correct stop and let them know where the stop was.”
“If that’s protocol, that absolutely has to change,” said Stanley. “No one questioned him when he got on the bus with the students. Getting a free ride, walking into the cafeteria, it literally boggles my mind.”
Some parents say they are disappointed with the lack of communication from the school. Stanley said the first time he heard about the incident was 24 hours later, when parents received an email from Stafford High School Principal Joe Lewis.
In that email, Lewis briefly describes the encounter with the intruder and wrote, “He did not have a weapon and made no threatening comments or actions to students and staff.”
The email also said the incident “is an opportunity to remind our students and staff to remain alert, exercise caution and report any suspicious activity in the schools.”
Stafford County School Superintendent Scott Kizner called the incident “unfortunate,” but said his staff handled the situation quickly.
“I understand people’s concerns,” said Kizner. “Obviously, changes need to be made, and changes will happen.”
The school system issued a statement on Thursday that said extra precautions are being taken to ensure the safety of students and staff in the school division. In that same statement, Kizner asked his staff for “a thorough review and recommendations for any security change.”
Emily Gault, whose 14-year-old son attends Stafford High, said Thursday’s incident has left her “leery” about school security and their lack of communication with parents. Gault said daytime security at the school is excellent, and an identification card is required for access through secured doors.
“I never really thought about how easy it is to enter the school in the morning or during dismissal,” she said.
In July, Decatur and members of his department provided school bus driver safety training for 275 county bus drivers on how to deal with dangerous situations, such as intruders. Decatur said Wednesday’s incident drives home the “see something, say something” message that his department has been heavily promoting as a way to prevent and deter crime throughout the county.
“Our top priority is to protect our students and our schools and we’re available and willing to do that,” Decatur said. “We want to do everything we can do to help and that’s why it’s important to train and continue to train our bus drivers.”