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3 LR schools not told of police manhunt, officials say

By Christina Huynh

This article was published January 23, 2014 at 4:59 p.m.

demontae-berry-16-of-little-rock

Demontae Berry, 16, of Little Rock

Demontae Berry

Arrested in Pulaski County, AR on January 22, 2014

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.

Comments on: 3 LR schools not told of police manhunt, officials say

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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 total comments

pat72209 says... January 23, 2014 at 5:42 p.m.

I was listening to the search and thought sure they would catch him. I even thought about calling the schools because I didn't know who they were chasing or why. AS IT TURNS OUT, HE WAS HANDCUFFED AND UNARMED. How much damage could he do?

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pat72209 says... January 23, 2014 at 5:45 p.m.

As it turns out HE WAS HANDCUFFED AND UNARMED....HOW MUCH DAMAGE COULD HE DO?

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RBBrittain says... January 23, 2014 at 6 p.m.

Pat, he had already managed to move his arms from back to front while handcuffed AND before leaving Hall High. He could have easily broken into a home or business and forced someone to cut off his handcuffs, OR had a waiting accomplice to cut them off. (The prior article is unclear as to whether or not he was still handcuffed when caught.)

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PAR says... January 23, 2014 at 7:04 p.m.

I'm pretty sure the point here is, Pat, that when anything dangerous in a neighborhood is going on, it is prudent on the part of the Little Rock Police Dept. to notify all schools in the area, public and private. This is not rocket science and doesn't require lots of thinking or pondering, or a strategy, for that matter. I would like to believe that the LRPD knows where ALL the schools are, even if they are not public. I would also like to hope they already have the phone numbers and principals names jotted down somewhere. How about the strategy is this: have someone in the department pick up a phone and give them a call?

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SUPERDUTY says... January 23, 2014 at 7:32 p.m.

Funny how they are a real badass until they get caught. The police were escorting him and he bowed his head so you could not see his face. Yeah, real brave.

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shellybane says... January 23, 2014 at 11:27 p.m.

It goes to show how unprepared the police department was in handling the situation. He shouldn't have even gotten away in the first place. He was detained and handcuffed. How incompetent is this police force!?!

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shellybane says... January 23, 2014 at 11:31 p.m.

@Pat Down.. How much damage can he do? Let's see he tried to kill someone, robbed someone, etc..he was on the loose..maybe he could have gone to your house, I mean how much damage could he do?

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Dulie says... January 24, 2014 at 10:12 a.m.

Being charged with a crime doesn't mean that you are guilty.

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