Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr.

Alice Echo-News Journal

A districtwide lockdown was in effect for more than two hours on Thursday while area law enforcement officers searched for suspects in connection with a bank robbery that occurred one block from Alice High School.

Alice superintendent Henry Herrera, in communication with city and law enforcement officials, made the call shortly before 11 a.m. to initiate lockdown procedures on all 10 Alice ISD campuses.

AHS junior Cassandra Valverde was in her BCIS class when word came over the intercom that a lockdown would take place.

“We had to stay in the classroom, and all the doors were locked. They didn’t want anyone in the hallways,” Cassandra said. “We had the news on and the teachers made sure everyone stayed quiet, just in case something happened. It was kind of boring, but scary.”

Cassandra’s thoughts were of her father, Ismael Valverde, who works for the City of Alice on the southside, in the vicinity of the law enforcement search. She said she felt safe while on campus.

AHS principal Berta Longoria brought together all teachers who were off third period, all staff members and custodians to monitor the hallways and check every entrance and exit to the building. Longoria said the school normally keeps the doorways locked against outside individuals.

“Everyone pitched in. We had personnel at every exit. I’m especially proud of all our students. Everything went very well, very orderly,” Longoria said. Students stayed on campus through the lunch period, a first for AHS, Longoria said.

The open campus became a closed campus, with students taking their lunch in three periods instead of the usual two lunch periods. Longoria commended the cafeteria staff, which put in a considerable amount of effort to make sure all 1,380 students were fed. The staff serves only 500 to 600 students during an average lunch day.

After preliminary conversations with teachers, Longoria said she received no reports about disciplinary problems during the lockdown.

“These are high school students, young adults, and after I explained about the lockdown procedure and why we were doing it, they understood the situation, and knew what they had to do,” Longoria said.

Also in close proximity to Wells Fargo Bank, Coastal Bend College-Alice faced the unique situation of having a lockdown with students who were also parents. CBC-Alice Director Rito Silva said the majority of the students left after word got out about the AISD lockdown. Hundreds of students left to check on their children and monitor the situation before the CBC lockdown commenced at noon. It lasted only thirty minutes, after Silva communicated with city officials about the search.

“There was a lot of rumors, a lot of buzz going on around campus. This is the first time we’ve had a lockdown at CBC,” Silva said. “There was small amount of panic, just because of the unknown. Of course, proximity to the incident really added to the anxiety.”

Silva held a quick meeting in the hallway with staff and instructors, to let them know about the situation and to organize their efforts to secure the campus. Silva said the whole experience went really well, considering the campus had not rehearsed for such an event.

Next door to the bank, Dairy Burger restaurant was also locked down for about 30 minutes as customers waited for the OK to leave safely.

“I was just eating and I saw a lot of cop cars coming in and before I knew it we heard someone had gotten shot,” said Ted Kubala, who was at the restaurant at the time of the armed bank robbery. His friend, Ovidio Sembrano, said the ordeal was surreal.

“It’s pretty sad…and it’s pretty scary,” he said. “As I recall, this hasn’t happened before.”

After the lockdown was lifted, Cassandra’s mother, Sylvia Valverde, picked up her daughter from AHS. She said she felt a little bit better about the lockdown situation, knowing that the school acted quickly.

“It’s a scary feeling, especially when this happens close to the school,” Valverde said. St. Elizabeth and St. Joseph Catholic Schools also went into a lockdown after the robbery.

Ofelia Garcia Hunter contributed to this report.