May. 26, 2007
PHOENIX - Police found a man's body inside an air duct at Sierra Vista Elementary School, prompting students to be kept in lockdown and taken home early.
Police said that the top of a vent pipe was forcibly removed and the man let himself down the shaft. He appeared to have gotten stuck and could not get out, police reported. While the man's motive was not known, police said they have seen a number of incidents where burglars try to enter through air ducts.
The man's identity has not yet been released pending a fingerprinting analysis.
Roosevelt School District Superintendent Mark Dowling said that around 8:45 a.m. cafeteria workers noticed a foul odor and called maintenance to see if they could identify the problem.
A maintenance worker was unable to identify the cause. A plumber later came in and found the area where the odor was coming from, and school officials called police. Once police arrived, they discovered the body, said Lori Rieger, communications relations specialist for the Roosevelt School District.
School officials used an emergency notification system to alert parents to pick up their children. Any child who wasn't picked up by parents was kept at the school in a lockdown situation. Friday was a scheduled early-release day at the 550-student school.
School officials plan to have counselors and psychologists on campus when students return Tuesday.
"We do worry about our children and what this does to them, what they're thinking. Nothing prepares you for this," Dowling said. This had been the first incident of its kind at the school, Dowling added.
"There wasn't much we could do today," Dowling said in regards to dealing with children's reactions to the incident. "The teachers did a great job of keeping the kids calm.
All students were safe at the school since the cafeteria is a stand-alone building.
"Our biggest problem was that we couldn't use the cafeteria," Dowling said. School officials immediately brought water bottles to students waiting outside for parents and inside in classrooms. Volunteers also brought pizza to the students since they couldn't have lunch at the school.
Students were sent home with a letter to their parents that said the school had "discovered a deceased person" on the cafeteria roof.
The school is on the 6400 block of south 16th Street in Phoenix.