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LaBelle school lockdown left parents asking for more transparency, county sheriff answers their questions

Sheriff Whidden provides reassurance and insights into how, and when, authorities release info during active investigations
Posted at 9:22 PM, Mar 28, 2024

LABELLE, Fla. — Following a tense situation at Country Oaks Elementary School in LaBelle involving a lock-down and a boy selling a gun to another kid, the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office said parents were notified immediately of the lockdown and that their children were never in any danger.

However, for hours, parents tell Fox 4 they were left wanting details and asking why there weren’t more updates.

So, we went to the Hendry County Sheriff to have those parents’ questions answered.

Sheriff Steve Whidden said he wants parents to know the amount of information that gets released depends on the threat level of an indecent.

“At no time was there a threat to the school - everything was outside of school. So, if there is a threat to the school we will notify parents immediately,” he assured.

During investigations like this, Whidden explained that the Sheriff’s Office has to be cautious about how much information gets released at what time, saying, “if there’s an arrest made and we give out too much information, that could sway any type of courtroom proceeding - any kind of jury. It messes with the state attorney and their efforts to prosecute the case.”

On Monday, Sheriff Whidden said 10-year-old, Carlos Santos Madrid, lit a piece of paper on fire prompting a teacher to search his backpack for a lighter. Whidden says that’s when the teacher found the ammunition.

“The following day, my captain received a call from a concerned citizen that said, ‘Hey, I heard there might have been a gun exchanged a month ago.’ So, once we got that information we got on the phone immediately with the people we needed involved. Interviews were done outside of the school, the gun was confiscated and the arrests were made,” said Whidden.

Sheriff Whidden emphasized that a school lockdown is standard procedure despite there being no active threat there on Wednesday.

“You know, sometimes we’ll lock a school down if we’re looking for someone that stole a pack of meat from the grocery store. As soon as we hear there may be a gun involved somewhere we lock it down immediately,” Whidden explained.

Going forward, to prevent these types of incidents from happening, Whidden shared some advice for parents.

“You have to tell your children - if you hear anything like this, even an assumption, you need to let us know. Let your parents know so they can let us know. If we had gotten wind of this a month ago we would have had the gun back a month ago,” said Whidden.