The text message Jana Renfroe received from her 12-year-old son Friday morning read like a parent’s worst nightmare.
“Code red lock down and of (sic) these are my last words I want to tell you I love you and dad tell him please.”
Moments after Tonya Moses-Charles was killed Friday in the parking lot of Columbus’ Public Health Department, Phenix City Schools officials were notified that her son was enrolled at Phenix City Intermediate School and the suspected killer, her estranged husband Lyle Charles, had permission to check him out.
That put in motion an “overly cautious” plan to lock down Phenix City Intermediate, Phenix City Elementary and Central High School.
Central was briefly under a “code yellow,” which means students were allowed to move between classes but no one could enter or leave campus. Interim superintendent Rod Hinton wasn’t sure what relationship the suspect had with the student at Central High, but the teenager was absent so the warning was lifted.
Phenix City Elementary was on lockdown because of its proximity to the intermediate school.
Meanwhile, Renfroe’s son, Cole, was under a computer desk for nearly two hours, he said Friday afternoon.
“We were kind of freaking out a little bit,” Cole said, “and we kind of stayed calm and got under computers and stuff.”
Cole said he and his classmates have run “plenty of drills” and his teacher told the class right away “it was a real thing.”
That scared Cole, who became emotional when he described a thought he had while they waited.
“I was thinking in my head like the news reporter saying, ‘We found the body of Cole Renfroe, Randy Renfroe and Jana Renfroe,’” he said, referring to himself, his father and his mother. “So that kind of scared me a little bit. That was all I could think about and I was trying to stay calm.”
His friend, Sheldon Hickman, 12, said he was trying to keep a close eye on the door and listen for strange sounds.
A “code red” is called when there’s the possibility of an intruder on campus and students must be moved to a safe location. Both boys described a sense of relief after the code red was lifted, but as of Friday morning they still weren’t aware of what had happened.
The code yellow was lifted after 11 a.m. when Hinton said there “wasn’t a threat anymore.”
“They had no indication the suspect crossed the river,” Hinton said.
According to Valerie Fuller, director of communications for the Muscogee County School District, Hannan Academy had a “closed, secure perimeter” because it was just a handful of blocks away from the scene.
That’s standard protocol for MCSD schools, Fuller said, when there’s a shooting in the vicinity.
Asked whether the school district had a color-coded security measure similar to Phenix City’s, Fuller said every school has a safety plan that is site-specific based on the individual buildings.
“Our safety precautions are typically dictated by the level of the security threat,” Fuller said. Muscogee County schools conduct similar drills throughout the year, she said.