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Handgun sighting triggers Desert Pines lockdown

With images of the massacre at Virginia Tech fresh in their minds, students and parents at Desert Pines High School were sent into a panic on Tuesday after an 18-year-old man flashed a handgun on campus.

Even though no one was hurt, many assumed the worst when the school, at 3800 Harris Ave., near Pecos Road and Washington Avenue, was placed on lockdown.

"You watch TV and see what happened in Virginia and think, ‘That’s over there.’ Well, it’s here too," said Carrie Luna, who was waiting at the school to pick up her ninth-grade son, Obie.

Maria Lopez, who was anxiously waiting for her son and daughter to be let out of school, echoed Luna.

"Because of what happened in Virginia, everyone is worried about their children," Lopez said in Spanish.

The incident started about 11 a.m., when several young men, who aren’t current Desert Pines students, walked into the school’s courtyard, authorities said.

The men got into an argument with a Desert Pines student, and dozens of students rushed toward them to watch the fight, said Lt. Ken Young of the Clark County School District police.

"Kids always run towards the action," said Young.

One student who saw the fight, 15-year-old Stephanie Caceres, said six men were fighting with the Desert Pines student.

She played video of the fight captured on her cell phone. The blurry images show a group of men jumping around, surrounded by at least 50 students in the school’s courtyard. No gun is visible in the footage.

"I wasn’t scared. I was excited," said Caceres.

School police said one of the men brandished a weapon during the fight.

Desert Pines Principal Timothy Stephens said the man may have used the gun to threaten a student.

School security and police went to break up the fight, but the suspects fled as they approached.

Authorities and several students said the fight might have been gang related.

After authorities placed the school on lockdown, students were kept in their classrooms or taken to the school’s gymnasium to wait out the threat, students said.

Clark County School District officials have found 38 guns on campuses this school year. That number includes BB and pellet guns, said Young.

Luz Rodriguez, a 15-year-old 10th grader, said school officials ushered her and her classmates out of a portable building at about 11:20 a.m. and into the school’s gymnasium.

A school official gave them an ominous warning as they walked briskly from the portable to the gym, she said.

"They just told us to walk like we had to save our lives," she said outside the school on Wednesday.

The lockdown was lifted about 2 p.m.

The hours-long lockdown made parents uneasy. Several complained that they weren’t given any information, causing them to worry more.

"They just locked them down. They don’t let you take them out. They don’t tell you do anything," said Maritza Payan, a mother of two Desert Pines students.

She called the school several times seeking answers, but reached the school’s voice mail system.

Many parents said they learned of the incident when their kids called them using cell phones.

Jaime Lea, a district spokeswoman, said the district doesn’t have a policy to notify parents when a school is placed on lockdown. She said, however, that the district would place information on its Web site, www.ccsd.net, if an incident affects a lot of parents and students.

About 4 p.m., police arrested two 18-year-old men at a nearby apartment complex in connection with the incident. Police took Las Vegas teens Terrence Brown and Emanual Goins into custody and booked them into the county jail on charges of loitering with a weapon and possession of a dangerous weapon, said Young.

Police recovered two 9 mm handguns in the apartment where the two suspects were found, he said.

Young said police response to the incident wasn’t increased because of the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Police always respond when a gun is reported on campus, he said.

"Anytime we have a gun anywhere, we’re responsible," he said.

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