Highlands 3rd graders had exited room just moments before bullet came through their window Friday

Jay Senter - March 5, 2019 9:01 am
A window on a third grade classroom at Highlands Elementary was hit with a bullet Friday afternoon. Students in the classroom had just left to head to recess when the bullet struck.

Students in a 3rd grade class at Highlands Elementary had just left their room to head out to the playground for recess moments before a bullet struck their window Friday afternoon.

In a meeting with Highlands Elementary parents Monday, Shawnee Mission School District Chief Communications Officers David Smith and Executive Director of Emergency Management John Douglass provided the most detailed account to date of the timeline of events surrounding Friday’s shooting.

According to Smith, it was approximately 1:27 p.m. when staff on the playground heard what they believed to be gunfire and immediately began shepherding the children back inside. One third grade class was on its way to the playground when the students who had been outside began heading back in. That third grade class, whose windows face Roe Avenue, returned to their room to find glass on the floor. Those students were then moved to a nearby room.

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At approximately 2:19 p.m., school staff discovered that two windows on a van in the parking lot belonging to a Highlands staff member had been broken out by what appeared to be gunfire.

Parents had begun lining up to pick up their students for dismissal around this time. Douglass said that, based on communications with the law enforcement agencies responding to the situation, the area appeared to be stable. Douglass, in conjunction with Highlands principal Lee Ann Combs and Smith, made the determination to move ahead with a controlled dismissal. An email message informing parents about the procedure went out around 2:55 p.m.

Parents and staff were escorting students from the building at about 3:15 when police began shooting at Dylan Christoper Ruffin, who exited the house on the corner of 62nd Street and Roe with a handgun drawn. Smith said the district received word from police on the scene that there had been a 911 call from the residence only about a minute before Ruffin came out with his gun drawn.

Ruffin made his first appearance in Johnson County District Court on Monday afternoon. Ruffin appeared via teleconference from Johnson County Jail for his arraignment in front of District Magistrate Judge Daniel Vokins. His no-go preliminary hearing is set for 10 a.m. March 14 in front of District Court Judge Sara Welch in Division 19 at the Johnson County Courthouse.

‘a guilt that I walked my 4 year old…into this situation”

While a number of attendees commended district personnel for handling a chaotic situation, there were many others who had criticism and lingering questions about how it came to be that students and parents were being released from the building at the time police started shooting.

One mother recounted that she had been walking her daughter near the building when the gunfire broke out, and laid on top of the girl to protect her. She said she couldn’t understand how, with evidence that the school had been struck by previous gunfire, the district had given the okay for students to exit the building.

“I just want to know how we got to where there’s bullets in this car, there’s bullets coming in the window, but we’re going to go ahead with dismissal,” she said. “I guess there’s a guilt that I walked my 4 year old…into this situation.”

Douglass argued that, in hindsight, it may appear obvious that the gunfire had come from the home on the corner, but that in the thick of it, there was a good deal of uncertainty about where the shots had originated from. He said that the trajectory of the bullets would have been consistent with a drive-by shooting, and that attempts to make contact with people inside the home had been unsuccessful. There was no probable cause that would have permitted police to enter the residence and search for a shooter at that time, Douglass said.

Some parents expressed frustration with a lack of representation from Fairway and Mission police at the meeting Monday, and Smith and Douglass acknowledged that the multi-jurisdictional nature of the response to the incident made establishing a timeline and communicating about what had occurred more difficult. Shawnee Mission police and staff were charged with keeping kids in the building safe. Mission police were responsible for investigating the bullet holes on school grounds, which sit in the Mission city limits. And Fairway police were charged with investigating the scene around the home, which is in Fairway.

Monday’s meeting had been previously scheduled by the Highlands PTA, and district officials decided Monday to use the opportunity to communicate with parents. Mission police said they were not made aware of or invited to the meeting.

One parent also asked the district to address rumors that police had been called to the house where the shooting took place to respond to reports of Ruffin firing BB guns in recent days. In an email to the Shawnee Mission Post Monday evening, Smith said that “We have probably heard the same rumors you have, but we had no prior information about any police contact with him.”

We have put in a records request with the Fairway Police Department to see if there had been any calls related to Ruffin’s address in recent weeks.

The meeting was organized by the Highlands PTA, whose leaders indicated it was open to the public. Central administration officials, however, later told reporters that it was closed to the press. A parent at the meeting provided an audio recording of the discussion to the Shawnee Mission Post.

Full audio from the nearly two hour meeting is available via our Dropbox account here.

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