Extra-credit burrito leads to school scare

Clovis Police Officer Clay Cullison stands outside Marshall Junior High School on Thursday. Police were called to the school after a concerned citizen reported seeing a male juvenile enter with a suspiciously concealed item. (CNJ staff: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A concerned citizen spotted a male juvenile carrying a suspiciously concealed item into Marshall Junior High School early Thursday morning.

Police were called. The school was locked down. Adjacent streets were closed and law officers were perched on roofs with weapons.

The drama ended about two hours later when the suspicious item was identified:

A 30-inch burrito, prepared as an extra-credit assignment and wrapped inside tinfoil and a white T-shirt.

“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” school Principal Diana Russell said after the mystery was solved.

“Overall, I’d say we had a good learning day.”

The incident began about 8:30 a.m., Russell said.

The school was locked down — no one allowed to enter or leave and students locked inside their classrooms — until police searched the premises and determined there was no immediate danger.

Russell said the student’s burrito was discovered after she brought the school together in the auditorium to explain what she knew about the series of events.

“The kid was sitting there as I’m describing this (citizen report of a student with a suspicious package) and he’s thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, they’re talking about my burrito.’”

After the meeting, which included students and parents, Russell said the student, Michael Morrissey, approached her.

“He said, ‘I think I’m the person they saw,’” Russell said. “He said, ‘It was my extra-credit project. I put a white T-shirt over it because I wanted it to stay warm.’”

Within minutes after the citizen report, representatives from New Mexico State Police, Clovis police and the Curry County Sheriff’s Department were on the scene.

“We’ve trained for incidents just like this — the training just kicked in,” said Sgt. Jim Schoeffel of the Clovis Police Department.

Schoeffel said the streets closest to the school, Main and Commerce Way, were blocked off as officers positioned themselves on the roof and around points of exit and entry at the school.

Parents, alerted to the incident by a local radio report, descended on the school, where they initially found little information.

More than 30 parents congregated in the Lowe’s Grocery Store parking lot adjacent from Marshall High. Visibly shaken, they gathered around in a semi-circle, straining their necks, awaiting news.

Heather Black, who has a son at the school, echoed the sentiments of the crowd.

“There needs to be security before the kids walk through the door,” she said.

Russell said about 75 students left the school with their parents soon after the lockdown was called off. At the time, the suspicious item had not been located.

Russell praised police for their efforts and school officials for following procedures properly.

She said she learned several things from the incident, primarily related to informing parents. She said the school received multiple telephone calls from parents who talked with school secretaries who had little information.

“All they (secretaries) were told is that it was a code blue (lockdown) and they didn’t know if it was a drill or not,” Russell said.

“If I had it to do over again, we would have alerted the secretaries that we had an actual threat … so we would not come across like we were trying to hide something.”

Russell said “98 percent” of the parents were understanding and supportive of school officials, but “we had a handful that were very verbal and one had to be escorted away by police.”

“But the bottom line,” Russell said, “at the end of the day, I feel pretty good about our response. This worked.”

CNJ Editor David Stevens contributed to this report.