Two city schools went on lockdown and a Science Hill High School senior was arrested Tuesday after officers discovered a loaded handgun inside his trench coat.
Benjamin Schon Neis-Eldridge, 18, 304 Shenandoah Drive, was pulled from class after Johnson City Police School Resource Officers Tony Ward and Bud Williams were told the teen looked suspicious in the buttoned-up coat.
According to a JCPD news release, the .22-caliber handgun was loaded and there was additional ammunition in Neis-Eldridge’s backpack.
Police also found what they said appeared to be marijuana in a small glass jar in the teen’s coat.
Neis-Eldridge was charged with carrying a prohibited weapon on school property and simple possession of marijuana. He was jailed on $1,100 bond.
Neis-Eldridge was in a class around 9:45 a.m. on the 8-9 campus, which had been relocated from the 10-12 campus because of construction. When officers found the gun, school administrators put both campuses — Science Hill 10-12 and Liberty Bell 8-9 — on a “soft” lockdown, Major Mark Sirois said.
Johnson City Schools’ Superintendent Richard Bales called it a ‘code yellow,’ lock down, “which means everybody stays in place where they are at the time.”
Dr. Debra Bentley, Johnson City Schools’ communication director, said that lockdown was lifted just after noon. Prior to Sirois confirming the weapon, Bentley told the Press that she didn’t know the reason for the lockdown, but that “everyone is safe.”
Sirois said the weapon was “never out” of the boy’s coat. He said officers are still investigating the incident, including why the teen took the gun to school.
“As far as we know, there as no intent to do harm,” Sirois said.
“The system worked the way it’s supposed to,” Sirois said about how the lockdown was carried out.
JCPD sent additional officers to the campus until the lockdown was lifted, he said.
Parents were informed about the lockdown by the school system’s phone and email alerts.
The first email and phone call telling parents that Liberty Bell Middle School was on lockdown arrived around 10:51 a.m.
The second email alert from Liberty Bell Middle School principal Tammy Pearce said the school had been in a code yellow lockdown, but was now clear.
“We had a situation that we felt needed further investigation,” she wrote in the message just before noon.
“The students are safe and now on regular schedule. Thank you for your patience.”
Parents were not told the reason for the lockdown in the electronic communication.
Neis-Eldridge was a member of the SHHS track team and competed in shotput and discus.
If he doesn’t bond out of jail, Neis-Eldridge will be arraigned on the charge in Washington County Sessions Court this morning. If he does post bond, the teen will be given a court date for later this month.
Staff Writer Gary B. Gray contributed to this report.