A Big Sky High School student was taken into custody Friday after shots were fired in the school's student parking lot at about 12:45 p.m., according to Missoula police.
No one was injured, according to Sgt. Travis Welsh.
The Montana Department of Criminal Investigation has taken over the investigation of the incident.
"No students or staff have been harmed, but there was an incident between our school police officer and one of our students," according to an email sent to parents from Principal Natalie Jaeger.
School staff and the school resource officer were conducting an investigation involving several students, Welsh said. When one student was contacted by staff, he ran from the school, pursued by the resource officer, he said.
The student got into a car and shots were fired, Welsh said. Welsh said he did not know how many shots were fired or whether any shots were fired by the school resource officer.
The subsequent chase along South Avenue and then southbound on Reserve ended when the dark-blue Audi apparently crossed the center line and crashed into a parked car in the lot at Denny Menholt University Honda near the pedestrian bridge over South Reserve.
Mario Lucero said he was leaving Community Medical Center and walking along South Avenue when the Audi came up onto the curb and nearly hit him. Lucero said that just afterward, he found a pistol beside the road on the 2700 block of South. He reported the gun to police and said they taped off the area and recovered the weapon.
Welsh confirmed that evidence was recovered from the area, but declined to specify what was found. He said further information about the case will have to come from DCI, a division of the Montana Department of Justice. A department spokesperson would only confirm that state investigators were on the scene.
About a third of the school's parking lot was blocked off with crime scene tape, and students whose cars were outside the tape were escorted to their vehicles by school staff.
Jaeger's email said parents could pick up their children immediately, and could follow up with the school on Monday concerning absences. Students whose cars were in the taped-off section of the lot won't be able to pick up their vehicles until Saturday morning at the earliest, the email said.
According to the Big Sky Sun Journal, the student newspaper, longtime Big Sky student resource officer David Hayden recently left the position and was replaced by 14-year Missoula police veteran Jeff Lloyd.
Sophomore Isis Ball, 16, said there was an all-call announcement between classes for all available teachers to come to the central office to deal with an issue with a student. She said "nobody thought much of it," until her fourth-period English class, when her teacher read a Missoulian article aloud to inform the students of what was going on.
After that, they lowered the blinds and assumed lockdown procedures in the classroom, though there had been no formal call for a lockdown. Later in the class period, the teacher received the email sent to parents describing the incident, and saying that students' cars were involved in the crime scene.
Students began contacting their parents, Ball said. "She told us we could call our parents, but to emphasize first that we are all right."
Later in the day, an announcement was made over the school's all-call system notifying students that there was an incident in the parking lot and that those whose vehicles were in the first six rows were allowed to leave, but others would have to leave their cars, Ball said.
“I’m upset that there wasn’t a lockdown, if there were shots fired,” Ball said. “I feel like since it involved student property such as our vehicles, we should have been notified about what was going on and kept up to date.”
Big Sky has dealt with an unusually high number of school threats in recent weeks, and was on perimeter lock-in Feb. 22 because of several graffiti threats warning students not to be at the school.
Another student was ordered not to come within 1,500 feet of the school on the same day after a classmate took out an order of protection against him. The school investigated a threat that student made to "shoot up this school," and deemed through its threat-assessment procedures that the threat was low-risk.
Principal Jaeger held a safety forum for parents March 1 to discuss the school's safety and threat assessment procedures, and to hear from parents. She said at the forum that the school has changed its procedures to notify parents via email in the event of a threat investigation after parents said they were frustrated at the lack of communication from the school.
Previously, parents were not notified unless the threat-assessment team found there to be a threat.
Students are still not notified via email or text of threats or investigations. At 1:50 p.m. Friday, about an hour after the shooting, parents received an email notification, but students were not notified until the end of the school day. Some found out through online news while in class.
Jennifer Franks, a parent of one student at Big Sky and another student at C.S. Porter several blocks away, said finding out by email an hour after a shooting on school grounds was "absolutely ridiculous."
She said she was running errands when a friend called her and told her there had been a shooting at the school. Not knowing more, she went to pick up her son, who also hadn't been informed yet of what had happened.
"The students don't know and the parents don't know — both the groups of people who are involved in that school," Franks said. "But the Missoulian knows, Facebook knows. It's absolutely ridiculous. It doesn't make sense."
Franks said her fiance went to pick up her other son at C.S. Porter, where there was also not a lock-down.
"I can't believe that after all the shootings that have happened across the U.S., and the technology that we have, all we get is an email an hour after the fact," Franks said. "There should have been an alert go out like when there is an Amber alert. If there's a shooting going on, I want to know about it."
Missoulian reporter David Erickson contributed to this story.