DOBSON — The Surry County Government Center was placed under lockdown on Wednesday, after one visitor overhead another engaging in suspicious conversation in the parking lot.
At about noon, the suspect and his mother exited the center, angry regarding an unknown incident involving the Department of Social Services, said Dobson Police Chief Shawn Myers. A female subject overheard the suspect tell his mother that he had a gun.
“I think the precise statement reported to us was, ‘I’ve got a pistol. We can take care of this,’” said Social Services Director Wayne Black.
The female subject alerted a receptionist at the government center. Seconds later, all of its buildings were placed under lockdown.
“We didn’t know if it was real or a drill,” said Parks and Recreation Director Daniel White. “We just went into our normal, situational operation like we always do. We practice for these scenarios on a regular basis.”
“Any time something like this happens, everybody knows what they are supposed to do,” said Health and Nutrition Center spokesperson Thomas Williams. He noted the most recent lockdown drill occurred about two months ago. “One of the first questions asked is, ‘Is this a drill, or is this for real?’ And that was the first question I had. But I knew what I was supposed to do. I can ask all those questions later.”
Alerted of the lockdown via an overhead intercom system, government center employees and visitors rushed to designated safe rooms, in which they secured themselves. Inside each room, individuals slid a green card under the door, into the hallway, signifying everyone in the room was okay.
“I just happened to be going down a hall when the lockdown occurred,” said Black. “I got in a supervisor’s office. She was training somebody. So there were about three of us in there.”
Black laughed at the initial awkwardness of suddenly entering the office. “It was like, ‘Okay, I’m here! We are going to be friends for a little while!’”
Officials from the Surry County Sheriff’s Office and the Dobson Police Department arrived on the scene, in an equal joint effort, said Myers. For about an hour, they investigated inside and outside the government center. Some police officers worked undercover, dressed as civilians.
“It was very quiet,” said Williams. “It was deafeningly quiet in the health department.”
Finally, police informed the individuals they could exit their secured rooms. Ultimately, neither the suspect nor any hidden weapons could be located.
“When the lockdown was over, we heard the overhead page,” recalled Williams. “I peaked out the door, and I saw people coming out from our side of the building. Then it was back to business as usual.
“Of course, you’ve got people asking, ‘What in the world is going on?’ And of course, you have no idea. Nobody really knew.”
Throughout the government center, contradicting recollections of the incident began to spread.
“Any person you talk to, they are going to have a different version of the story,” he continued. “You get six people in the room, there are going to be six different perspectives.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about three different versions of the story myself,” said Black, citing one in which the suspect waved a gun in the main building. “But nobody to my knowledge ever saw a gun.”
Still, Black expressed gratitude to the sheriff’s office and the Dobson police for their investigation, while also praising the government center’s precautionary lockdown procedures.
“As far as the whole process is concerned, the system worked,” he said. “I think that’s the good part of this whole ordeal.
“I don’t know — this is speculation — but I don’t think there was ever a danger within the building,” concluded Black. “Certainly law enforcement checked that out. There would not have been a cancellation of the lockdown without law enforcement being assured and assuring us that the coast was clear. They had the situation under control from the very beginning.”
Reach Josh Armstrong at 719-1921 or firstname.lastname@example.org.