​Local Schools on Lockdown During Deep Woods Crisis

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Early on the afternoon of Jan. 5, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department contacted St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School (SAS) and Sewanee Elementary School (SES) recommending the schools initiate lockdown procedures. Officers were en route to assist with an armed, distraught man who phoned Franklin County area 911 from the vicinity of Deep Woods Road, threatening violence.
“The context of the call was he was going to kill himself or force law enforcement officials to kill him,” said Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller. Later identified as Randy Cole, age 40, from Antioch, Tenn., the caller told the dispatcher he was “hearing voices,” according to Fuller.
Cole was unable to describe his location. Two Franklin County deputies accompanied by two police officers from Sewanee and two from Monteagle responded to the call. The sheriff’s department used Cole’s phone signal to track his location to Deep Woods Road at the junction with the Monteagle city limits.
Cole remained on the phone with the dispatcher until the officers arrived on the scene. When the officers attempted to negotiate with Cole, he drew a handgun and fired, Fuller said.
Five officers returned fire. Cole was rushed to Emerald-Hodgson Hospital in Sewanee where he later died.
The incident occurred less than a half mile from the SAS campus. At about 1 p.m., SAS received a call from the Franklin County Sherriff’s Department instructing them to “lockdown,” said SAS Director of Communications Sherri Bergman.
The school sounded the lockdown siren. SAS had practiced lockdown procedures just before the holiday break, and the students responded calmly. “The procedure is for students to go to a room where the door can be locked and the curtains drawn and to be as quiet as possible,” Bergman explained.
After 20 minutes, SAS received notice the danger had passed, and students went back to classes. Parents of SAS students were notified by email to avert any unnecessary alarm.
“The students didn’t appear noticeably upset,” Bergman said. “Many SAS students are well versed in lockdown. They previously attended metropolitan public schools where they experienced lockdown incidents.”
At SES, the school was instructed to go on soft lockdown. According to the report SES Principal Kim Tucker received from school resource officer Robin McNeese, “the subject in question was in sight of the officers, so we shouldn’t be in imminent danger, but we needed to take precautions due to the proximity of the situation.”
Under soft lockdown, “no one can go outside, but students and staff have freedom to move within the building,” Tucker said. McNeese and Tucker went room to room privately informing the teachers of the situation.
Tucker expressed relief the school was able to “avoid causing undue stress” to the children. “I doubt any of them knew we were on lockdown. With the colder temps on Thursday, I’m sure they didn’t think it strange to be kept inside for recess.”
“When we got the call notifying us the situation was resolved, I announced ‘all clear’ on the intercom, as I do at the completion of all our emergency drills,” Tucker said. “We practice safety drills thoroughly, and we recently put a detailed plan in place for evacuation and reunification with parents. If we have a serious event requiring evacuation, parents will be reunified with their children at Angel Park and should go there instead of trying to come to the school.”
Since the University of the South was on break and few students were on campus, the sheriff’s department did not instruct the college to initiate lockdown.
“We’re unsure why Cole was in the Deep Woods area,” Fuller said. Prior to phoning 911, he visited relatives in the Sewanee and Cowan area and was reportedly “acting out.”
A roadblock closed the crime scene to traffic until 3:30 p.m., Jan. 6. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident.