NEAR WEST SIDE — Whitney Young students and faculty took cover in classrooms Thursday afternoon after a man threatened to shoot police officers at the nearby Chicago Police Academy, students and school officials said.
But the threat appeared to be "nothing," a police officer said.
At 3:15 p.m., Whitney Young Principal Joyce Kenner came over the loudspeakers and told students and staff in the building that the school was on lockdown and to take cover.
"She said, 'You need to get down, get away from the windows,'" freshman Gabrielle Wolf said. "You could tell there was fear in her voice."
Students ran into classrooms and hid under desks, and teachers did the same. Many were crying. Some, like senior Gabriela Iturralde, feared at first that there was a shooter in the building.
"That's what happens in America today," said Iturralde, who was in the computer lab at the time. The students closed the door and hid under tables. Iturralde said the scariest moment for her was when the door flew open again, but it was their teacher returning to the room.
After about 10 minutes, Kenner came back on the loudspeaker to say that a homeless man had threatened to shoot up the Police Academy across the street from the school at Jackson Boulevard and Loomis Street, students said. Several police officers came to the school.
Wolf, who was at a theater rehearsal in the school's arts building, said she tried to call her twin brother, Bryce, who was also at the school practicing with his cross-country team.
"He didn't answer, and it scared me so bad," she said. "Like, why aren't you picking up?"
Bryce Wolf said a police officer told his coach to take the students inside, so the team and other student athletes took shelter in the school's basement.
Kenner sent an email to students and staff later Thursday afternoon, saying the scare originated with a patient at nearby Rush University Medical Center.
"Allegedly, a homeless man had an incident at Rush Presbyterian hospital and told a police officer he was on his way over to the Police Academy to shoot police officers," she wrote. "Police officers had their weapons drawn outside and were searching the neighborhood to ensure the safety of our students and residents."
Kenner said in the email that an officer outside the school told a Whitney Young coach to put the school on lockdown as they searched for the man.
A police officer near the scene said afterward that the homeless man's threat was baseless.
"Basically, it was all blown out of proportion," the officer said.
Parents and students, however, said that until they learned it was not a real threat, thoughts of mass shootings around the country and the possibility of a deadly situation raced through their minds.
"I thought maybe it was a false alarm, but then I thought maybe did someone finally snap?" Gabrielle Wolf said. "Now, talking with my friends, we said we could have all just died right there."
Both the Wolf twins are black belts and have participated in active shooter drills at Chicago Public Schools, said their mother, Dina Wolf. But when her daughter called and told her about the situation, "in light of everything that's happening [in the country], it's horrible," she said.
"This generation, where we had to deal with tornados or thunderstorms, they have to do it on a whole other level," Dina Wolf said. "It's pretty scary."
The lockdown took place about a half-hour after Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. had wrapped up a groundbreaking ceremony at nearby Skinner West Elementary School.
A police cadet told DNAinfo that the Police Academy, across Loomis Street from the school, also went on lockdown for about 15 minutes.
Most students had already left Whitney Young after an early dismissal Thursday, but many remained for extracurricular activities and sports practices.
A Chicago Police Department spokeswoman did not immediately have information about the incident.