HOMEWOOD, Ala. (WIAT) — He hoped a bass guitar would save him.
The eighth-grader at Magic City Acceptance Academy, an LGBTQ-friendly charter school in central Alabama, had picked up the instrument after a police officer, gun drawn, had ordered him and his classmates back into the auditorium where he’d just finished music class. The officer said there was a shooter on campus, the student recalled.
The students in his class — around a dozen of them — ran back into the building. A few began crying, the eighth grader said. Others picked up instruments as weapons. Some grabbed guitars. Another grabbed a music stand. One grabbed a flute.
“I began thinking, ‘I need to find ways I can escape if the shooter comes in,'” the student said.
The police response to Magic City Acceptance Academy on Wednesday was caused not by a report of an active shooter at that school, officials later confirmed, but by a report of shots fired at a school across the street, the Islamic Academy of Alabama. Because of confusion around the word “academy” in the 911 call, Homewood Police initially responded to the wrong location, according to Sgt. John Carr, the department’s public information officer. Both schools were quickly cleared, he said, and no threat was found.
Parents of students at Magic City Acceptance said they appreciate the quick response by police, but the false alarm has left them wondering what impact the incident may have on their children.
Kailee Maciulla-Schuster’s son was the eighth-grader who armed himself with a bass guitar. She said she first learned about what happened in an email from school officials.
“Today we had police arrive on campus,” the email to parents stated. “They received a call that a student called from inside the building saying someone had a gun. This report was false. The police were at the wrong location.”
What happened Wednesday was a “scary incident,” a school official said in the email, sent just after noon that day.
“Again, there was no threat at the school today,” the school’s written message concluded. “The police were at the wrong school. Please help students work through this at home, and we will help them here.”
Maciulla-Schuster, who has two children at MCAA, said that she would’ve preferred to receive a phone call from the school notifying her of what had happened.
“I was working from home and just happened to check my email,” she said. “Otherwise I didn’t even know anything had happened.”
Other parents said they received text messages and calls from their children telling them an active shooter was on campus. One parent said only seven minutes elapsed between the time her daughter told her there was a lockdown and when she notified her it was a false alarm. The seven minutes felt like hours, she said.
“Those minutes between my daughter’s ‘lockdown’ text and the ‘false alarm’ text were horrible,” the parent said. “So grateful that no one but police had a gun, but God I was so scared.”
Sgt. Carr with Homewood Police said they understand that any massive police response can be traumatizing for children.
“We certainly understand that seeing a bunch of police officers with guns coming into your school would be disturbing,” he said. “It’s just a sad fact that we have to respond that way because we take it very seriously, and we’re trying to preserve life.”
Carr said Homewood Police’s response was standard for an active shooter situation.
“Our response is everybody — all hands on deck,” he said. “Everybody that’s at work, regardless of your department, is responding.”
Because of the current climate, Carr said, it’s unreasonable to have police respond without such force.
“It’s unfortunate, but they can’t really respond to an active shooter with a gun in your holster,” Carr explained. “That’s like our Super Bowl — you’ve got to be on your A-game, and you’ve got to do what you’re trained to do, and that involves police officers with guns out.”
Carr said police response to Magic City Acceptance was “almost immediate” and that the delay caused by the 911 call confusion was minimal. Police responded to the Islamic Academy, located just across the street from MCAA, in quick succession. A preliminary investigation suggested that shots fired in a nearby neighborhood led a student to call 911 from the Islamic Academy.
“There was no active threat to any of the schools or any of the campuses,” Carr said.
Wednesday’s events aren’t the first time students at Magic City Acceptance Academy have been thrust into a difficult situation. In 2022, security at the school was increased following political advertisements in the Republican primary for Alabama governor that inaccurately attacked the school as the “first transgender public school in the South.”
In a second email sent by school staff following Wednesday’s police response, MCAA’s principal Patton Furman wrote that she was proud of the school’s faculty, staff, and students for their response to the situation.
“We hate this happened and caused stress, but there was some good information that came out of it,” Furman wrote. “The police officers acted swiftly and without hesitation. They did what they are supposed to do to ensure the safety of our kids. The faculty and staff did exactly what they should have done, and so did the kids. After the all clear, our teachers and counselors checked on kids, comforted them, helped them regulate, and allowed the afternoon to unwind.”
Maciulla-Schuster said her concerns about what happened Wednesday center around two issues: the confusion that led to a response to the wrong school and the impact the police response could have on her and other children moving forward.
“How in the world does this happen?” the mother asked. “I don’t know how you get this wrong.”
And while she says her eighth grader has largely shrugged off what happened, she worries about her sixth-grader, who cried silently as the lockdown unfolded.
“She was absolutely terrified,” Maciulla-Schuster said. “I think she’s going to be impacted for some time to come.”