Suffolk school leaders won’t answer questions about school intruder video

Through a FOIA request, News 3 obtained video that appears to show a man trespassing onto Kilby Shores Elem. property before barricading himself inside a bathroom with students inside.
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Posted at 6:09 PM, Jul 04, 2024

SUFFOLK, Va. – Elected and appointed leaders with the Suffolk Public School district are not answering questions from journalists about the surveillance video showing the moment a man slipped into Kilby Shores Elementary School last month, before barricading himself in a girls' bathroom with students inside.

This week, the News 3 investigative team obtained video of the June 14 incident when a man made his way into the school around 11:30 a.m. while school was still in session. Police and the school district said he was not authorized to be on campus, and did not have any children who attended the school.

The surveillance video shows a man, presumably 42-year-old Vontrail Thorpe, running toward the school and entering it through a door that another adult was holding open while appearing to monitor children playing outside.

Trespasser enters Suffolk school, barricades himself in bathroom with students

Moments after slipping into the school through the open door, the man in the video enters a nearby bathroom, where children were inside.

The video shows the man preventing anyone from entering or leaving the bathroom until a School Resource Officer arrives and is able to pull the man out of the bathroom.

No children or staff were physically injured during the ordeal.

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The Suffolk Police Department charged Thorpe with two counts felony abduction, one count of felony trespassing, one count of felony possession of a schedule I/II narcotic on school property, one count of felony breaking and entering, and one count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

When News 3 journalists reached out to Suffolk Public Schools for comment about the surveillance video, Jerrel Thomas, media and communications technician for Suffolk Public Schools, released this statement regarding the incident:

“We respectfully decline to speak on the video and the incident that took place on that day.” Thomas continued, apparently admonishing the publication of the public record, “We also respectfully warn that playing this video risks re-traumatizing the families involved and that the school division is not in support of doing so.”

We also followed up with Anthonette Ward-Dickens, the communications and community engagement officer with Suffolk Public Schools. I reiterated that I wanted to speak with Dr. John B. Gordon, the superintendent of the school district.

Ward-Dickens told me Dr. Gordon is not addressing any questions from the media or conducting any interviews about the video of the incident. I asked why Dr. Gordon was choosing not to answer questions from journalists about the ordeal, but Ward-Dickens said that was the directive given by district leadership.

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We also e-mailed and called every school board member, including the board’s chair, Karen L. Jenkins. Individual members who answered my calls told me their policy prevented them from speaking on the board’s behalf, and pointed me to Jenkins.

Jenkins has not responded to my calls or emails at the time of this publication.

The News 3 investigative team also learned that the night before the incident at Kilby Shores Elementary School, the School Safety Audit Committee shared a presentation with the school board about ways to enhance safety in the upcoming school year.

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Those recommendations included adding more school resource officers so each elementary school has an officer specifically assigned to that campus. At present, elementary schools in the district share school resource officers.

The committee, which consists of community volunteers, also shared that several of the district’s elementary schools, including Kilby Shores Elementary School, do not have external speakers should there be an emergency announcement. Therefore, staff and faculty outside do not receive the message.

Brandon Randleman, a citizen volunteer on the School Safety Audit Committee, said it is concerning to see that someone was able to get inside the school so quickly. He acknowledged staff members who quickly jumped into action, but said the district still has a lot of concerns to address.

"The school administration has to discuss now, 'Okay, what funds need to be put in place so that external security measures can be placed around playgrounds, can be placed around areas where students go, are outside of the school building,'" Randleman said.

Randleman also praised what he called immediate actions of what appear to be teachers, staff and a police officer responding to the man's barricade in the bathroom.

"What you saw that day was educators going in quick action to ensure that the students were safe and as much as they could, and possibly putting their own selves at risk," Randleman said.

Randleman also told me that he is calling on school leaders, administrators and members of the safety committee to hold an emergency meeting about what happened at the school last month. He said an email sent weeks ago to stakeholders has gone unanswered.

This is a developing story. Stay with News 3 for updates.