After 20 years as a custodian at Issaquah High School, you would think the administrators would recognize Allen Anderson. IHS is even his alma mater — he graduated in 1972. So when Anderson was facing two M4s and a host of other artillery Oct. 7 at the school, suffice it to say it was a shock.
Anderson started his day like any other. He carries a large golf umbrella because he walks part of the way to work. His shift begins at 2:40 p.m. and he never knows what the weather is going to be like at the end.
Like always, he got off the bus at Front Street and Second Avenue, then walked the rest of the way. He said he cut diagonally across the bus loop, entered the school and went to the staff lounge. Pat Miller and Paul Shockley – other custodians – came in the lounge, and a minute or two later the announcement came over the PA system.
“We’re going into lockdown – this is not a drill.”
Anderson turned on his radio and he could hear administrators talking about what to do – should they call other nearby schools?
“At that point in time they were doing all their panicking,” Anderson said. “They said it was someone in camo carrying a rifle.”
Anderson said he called assistant principal, Derek Heinz, who had seen Anderson in the same coat and clothes, and countless times with his umbrella, and told Heinz he had on everything matching the description of the “suspect.”
Heinz said they had a reliable witness, which Miller and Shockley heard him say. Heinz said it was someone else.
Procedure in a lockdown is to the pull the blinds and lock the door in all rooms, so the three men did just that. Anderson told Miller he was going to take his coat off in case the police came in and thought he was a shooter.
“About 10 minutes later Derek came back on the radio and said the police wanted me to put back on whatever I was wearing and bring my umbrella to the front office,” Anderson said.
He got up front to find it eerily deserted and quiet, so he proceeded to the entrance.
“It’s really quiet and I’m standing there wondering where this police officer is that I’m supposed to talk to,” he said.
From there, he said it was like his world went into slow motion.
“I saw a police officer with a bipod and sniper rifle. He was outside and in the same section across from him was another officer with a rifle resting on his SUV,” Anderson said. “Then, two cops by the theater entrance had M4s pointed at me. At that point in time it hit me really good that these idiots are going to do something stupid.”
He said Heinz came back on the radio and told him the police wanted him to put down his umbrella. He dropped it and didn’t move. Then they ordered him to put the radio down, slowly. He was thinking “this is it, they’re going to shoot.”
Heinz said over the radio that Anderson needed to come out of the building.
“I’m in the same position as the guy two years ago,” Anderson said.
He was referring to the Sept. 2011 incident where a gunman was shot five times by Issaquah police officers near Clark Elementary. Anderson said that incident made him feel that the police were trigger happy.
Anderson, who is hard of hearing, said the officers were shouting commands at him.
“I hollered at them that I was hard of hearing, so they told me to put my hands on my head,” Anderson said. “Then they searched me – not a very good search.”
He was ordered to sit on a concrete wall, in the open, which he said made him uneasy, because if there was a gunman, he was a sitting duck.
The police questioned him, asking him if he had any guns. He told them they should know because he’s had a pistol permit since 1978 through the city of Seattle. Then they asked him if he had any guns on him, to which he replied that he did not – he likes his job.
They finally went back into the building and an officer in SWAT gear went in with him. Anderson had to unlock the building door and also the office door.
“Then – whooph! Everyone wanted out of the building,” Anderson said.
He went back to the staff lounge and told Miller and Shockley what happened and that the lockdown was over. The officers left, giving him no explanation whatsoever and no apology.
“I was in a state of shock,” Anderson said, tears welling up in his eyes.
He said the whole thing lasted about 15-minutes, but it seemed like an eternity.
Anderson told Miller he didn’t feel good, and called the office (in May Valley) and talked to the secretary. He told her what happened and that he wanted to go home.
“I exited the building and started to walk home when Candy (Hammer, his supervisor) pulled up in a school district van,” he said.
She motioned for him to get in and said she’d take him home.
“I told her I didn’t understand what just happened to me,” he said.
When they got close to Jackson’s gas station, he asked her to stop so he could get a beer. From there he walked to a friend’s house, because alcohol is not allowed in a school district vehicle.
Anderson saw a counselor, but said the best form of healing for him was to go back to work, which he did Oct. 17. But he didn’t sleep for several nights until he saw his regular doctor to get something to help him sleep.
Anderson met with Heinz, school Sup. Ron Thiele, former Issaquah Principal and Executive Director of High Schools Paula Phelps, and his union representative Monday.
He was told the initial 911 call was made by a student. When the call came in to police, school resource officer Karin Weihe ordered the lockdown.
“I still don’t understand why they sent me in front of the guns,” Anderson said.
He still hasn’t seen a police video of the event, but he plans to request a copy. Phelps is arranging a meeting with Weihe to get more answers.
“The police were running the show,” Anderson said.
Issaquah police Commander Scott Behrbaum said with school shootings on the rise, law enforcement has had to change its response to school incidents.
“Our department has to ensure kids are protected,” he said. “We took this call very seriously.”
Behrbaum said once police arrived and got information from Weihe that it might be an employee, his officers had already exited their vehicles and taken out their equipment.
“We recognize that when a person calls in, we have to respond,” Behrbaum said. “We encourage people to call in when they see something suspicious. We view all calls as pieces to the puzzle.”
Anderson served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He has a 38-year-old son he raised since the boy was 3. He’s having a hard time focusing at work now. He wants to understand why this happened. He also feels the custodial staff is discriminated against.
“Teachers and administrators can all go back to the school after hours to use the weight room, play basketball – we all have keys but we can’t,” Anderson said. “It makes me feel like a second-class citizen after I’ve given them 20 years and given them work to the best of my ability.”