Three private Little Rock schools were not notified by the city's police department that a manhunt for a teen accused of attempted capital murder was occurring within about a mile of the area, according to school officials.
The manhunt started shortly before 3 p.m. Tuesday for Hall High School student Demontae Berry, 16, of Little Rock, who was being sought by police after he bolted from the high school's campus, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. Berry had been detained by a school officer that day, but later fled while handcuffed, sparking a search for the teen in the surrounding area.
According to a Little Rock Police Department report, officers pursued Berry into "the surrounding neighborhood where we lost sight of him."
"Berry left the area in an unknown direction," the report states.
The police department's spokesman Lt. Sidney Allen said the department only informed the Little Rock School District about the search for Berry, noting that a "call-out" system had not been established to alert all nearby schools — meaning that Mount St. Mary Academy, Catholic High School for Boys and Our Lady of the Holy Souls Catholic School were not notified of the manhunt by police.
"We are working on trying to get a call-out system, but we only notified the Little Rock School District [about the search for Berry]," Allen said. "At the time, we [didn't] have a call system to notify any other schools."
Allen added that the department is considering creating a notification system for all Little Rock schools in the future.
Hall High and Forest Heights Middle School were briefly locked down Tuesday afternoon in response to the police search, said Pamela Smith, the Little Rock School District's communications director. Smith said the schools had followed school policy in implementing a school lockdown after officers who had been assigned to Hall High School were told about the arrest warrant for Berry.
Mount St. Mary Academy and Our Lady of the Holy Souls Catholic School had locked down as well, but after being informed by other sources, according to school officials.
Sarah Johnson, communications and alumnae relations director for Mount St. Mary Academy, said the school was informed about the police search from a teacher who received a "breaking news alert on a cellphone and notified school administration."
"The school was placed on lockdown about 4:15 p.m. when about 25 students were left in the building," Johnson said in a statement. "Students were escorted to their cars until only six remained. At that time, the school building remained locked and a heightened state of awareness and security was advised until the last student went home."
Johnson said that the academy communicates with Catholic High School for Boys and Our Lady of the Holy Souls Catholic School "for incidents like this."
Ileana Dobbins, principal of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Catholic School, said school officials had learned about the manhunt through a student's parent. Officials called the Little Rock Police Department about whether they should lock down the school, and the department "suggested that they should," Dobbins said.
Most of the schools' students had already left by the time school officials learned about the search except about 50 students who participate in an after-school program, Dobbins said.
"I left Lt. Allen a message [that said] 'We would like to work with the police department when the safety of our children are in question," Dobbins said.
The Catholic High School for Boys did not implement a school lockdown because they were not informed about the police search, said Joan Finnegan, the schools' administrative assistant and registrar.
"We don't ever get notified for anything that goes on around the area, and we can't figure out why we don't get notified," Finnegan said.
Phone calls by Arkansas Online to the schools' principal Steven Gregory Straessle seeking a comment were not immediately returned.
Berry later surrendered to officers Wednesday morning on several warrants, including attempted capital murder, aggravated robbery, felony theft of property in connection with a Nov. 25 shooting that left 22-year-old Wieland Beck suffering from at least one gunshot wound in his right side.
Beck, who called 911 shortly before 3 p.m. Nov. 25, went unconscious while talking to the emergency operators, according to police reports.
Berry also is being charged in third-degree escape, a class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Berry appeared through a video feed in Little Rock District Court on Thursday morning, where judge Alice Lightle set his bail at $50,000. He is scheduled to appear in the city's district court for his next hearing on March 4. He is being represented by Jimmy Morris Jr., who would not comment about Berry's flee from Hall High School, but did say that Beck had first identified someone other than Berry as his shooter.
"We have an issue of mistaken identity," Morris said. "The only thing that I do think that they have in common is their hairstyle."
Berry is currently being held at the Pulaski County jail.