KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A report of a suspicious person that resulted in a four-hour lockdown Wednesday at Knoxville's McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base was apparently a misunderstanding.
A base spokesman told the Associated Press that a student reported seeing a suspicious person who appeared to be armed Wednesday morning.
After law enforcement searched the base and re-interviewed the student, the spokesman says they now think the student “didn't see what they thought they saw.”
"This situation undoubtedly caused concern for our Airmen and the local community, but we are thankful that an Airman who thought they saw something, said something," said Col. Ronald Selvidge, commander of the 134th Operations Group. "This is a scenario we train for and I am encouraged by the swift action of our base defenders and law enforcement agencies who immediately responded and cleared the areas, as well as all of our Airmen and civilians on base who followed the lockdown procedures we train for."
No shots were fired and no one was injured.
There was never an "active shooter" situation, which was initially reported by some media outlets.
The airbase in Alcoa, a suburb of Knoxville, Tennessee, is home to the 134th Air Refueling Wing. It's located adjacent to McGhee Tyson Airport, which was unaffected by the lockdown.
The lockdown was lifted at 2:48 p.m., according to Marian O'Briant, a spokesperson with the Blount County Sheriff's Office.
Airmen are trained regularly on operational security procedures and are empowered to "see something, say something," according to Col. Selvidge.
"Base personnel routinely train and practice procedures for natural or other disasters, including active shooter scenarios," he said.
Lt. Col. Travers Hurst, public affairs officer for the 134th Air Refueling Wing, told 10News earlier that at 11:15 a.m. there was a report of a suspicious person with a rifle on the base. They immediately went into lockdown, which is the standard operating procedure, and law enforcement immediately responded to sweep the base.
Hurst said nothing was found, and despite some reports of an active shooter on the base, that did not appear to be the case.
There was a large law enforcement presence at the base, which is located adjacent to McGhee Tyson Airport. The airport is operating normally, with flights taking off and landing and no restrictions that we are aware of.
Several agencies were on the scene assisting air base security with checking the base, including Tennessee Highway Patrol, TWRA, ATF, FBI, Knoxville Police, Blount County Sheriff's Office, Alcoa Police, and McGhee Tyson security sweeping the area to determine what drove the report of a possible person with a rifle.
"We would like to thank the many local authorities who responded to our gates so quickly," Selvidge said. "Knowing we have amazing emergency response forces able and willing to help protect our Airmen, civilians and families is certainly a blessing."
The Tennessee National Guard posted on social media earlier in the day that there are no reports of injuries.
"Right now, they’re going through building to building checking things out and that’s standard for our exercises or a real-world situation, they’re making sure the students and everybody is safe providing any assistance they can provide," said Chief Master Sergeant Shaun Withers, a spokesperson with the 134th.
Shaun Withers, Chief Masters Sergeant and trainer at TEC University, the training center on base, said information about the suspicious person was limited, and that authorities were conducting sweeps of the premises.
"'Lockdown lockdown lockdown' could be heard over the loudspeakers on the base. There isn’t a whole lot of contact going on because what you’re trying to do in an exercise or real-world situation, you don’t want to alert that shooter to where you’re at. So everyone immediately goes into a lockdown barricade," Withers said.
He also said while personnel were still on base checking to make sure everybody on base was safe and everyone had been accounted for.
"I know the schoolhouse has 100 percent accountability on their personnel….if there’s any friends family that are worried about this…as of right now we have 100 percent accountability," Withers said. "I know they’re still going building to building and they search every nook and cranny in the building. Everything gets searched. These folks are very methodical, I don’t know how long that takes."
This schoolhouse is in reference to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center is a detachment of the Air National Guard Readiness Center and is located at the air base.