WEAPONS IN SCHOOLS: Stockton Springs hostage situation, 9 years later
STOCKTON SPRINGS (WGME) -- As Good Day Maine takes an in-depth look at weapons in Maine schools, we look back at a close call that changed school security in Maine.
Halloween morning, 2008 is one that Lakeshia Vaughan and her mother will never forget.
"It was kind of like a shock thing," Lakeshia said. "I said there was a gunman in the building."
State police say Randall Hofland had been on the run for a week. He was accused of pulling a gun on a Searsport police officer during a seat belt safety check and ran off.
"We looked everywhere," said Gerard Madden, who was a lieutenant on the case. "We were checking all the abandoned buildings and we had, I don't even know if we had any sightings of him so we were trying to find him."
[WEAPONS IN SCHOOLS PART 1: Maine Department of Education struggles to accurately compile weapons data]
Police found Hofland at Stockton Springs Elementary School. Police say a parent first saw him approach two students in the cafeteria.
"And at that time he was approached by one of the staff members of the school, he brandished a handgun," Madden said.
As students ran to their classrooms, Lakeshia says Hofland went to hers.
"Ms. Russell tried to close the door but he kind of opened the door forcibly from her and took her out of the classroom," Lakeshia said, "We all just tried to hide the best we can."
At this time, police were on their way and the other classrooms were evacuating onto buses. Lakeshia's mother Diane Jackson got the heart-stopping call at work.
"She says 'Diane, it's on the police scanner, there's a hostage situation in school, they're holding the 5th grade class'," said Jackson. "I got in my car and I just didn't know if I could drive or not, I was just so shaken."
Meanwhile, Lakeshia and her classmates were scared and confused.
"He was talking to us about various things and asking us questions," Lakeshia said, "And it's like, what happens if we don't answer, what are you going to do?"
After about 20 minutes, another student did start talking with Hofland.
"He talked to the guy one-on-one," said Jackson, "Talked about weapons, different things, you know, I guess he knows his guns and you know, he just asked him what it was and everything and the guy just like handed it over to him."
"One of the students came out with a web belt with a handgun and loaded magazines and at which time, Mr. Hofland came out and he was secured and arrested," Madden said.
Lakeshia felt immediate relief.
"We ran all the way and got into the car," Lakeshia said.
Madden says the school's response was effective.
"Great credit to the school's plan, staying calm and all the officers that responded, I think that's why it went so smoothly," Madden said.
Right after this incident, Madden started working with districts across the state to make sure they were prepared for the unthinkable too.
"We basically were full-court press in every county to make sure all the schools have current up-to-date plans," Madden said, "So I assisted DOE with that, then also started a program where the troopers would stop into the schools."
Even the best plans, however, can't always help with the emotional toll. Lakeshia says memories are triggered by events like the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
"She was devastated for months," Jackson said about her daughter, "She couldn't sleep, couldn't do nothig, she wouldn't eat, just hibernated."
Madden says it's a reminder that it can happen anywhere and Maine schools need to be ready.
"Just be aware of your surroundings and be prepared you know, react safely."
In 2011 Randall Hofland was convicted of taking the students hostage and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Good Day Maine filed a request with the prison for an interview with Hofland, but did not hear back.