▶️ Bend’s High Desert MS let people past locked doors for years, district finds


The Bend-La Pine School District has released the findings of its investigation into how a convicted child sex offender got past a secure door and into High Desert Middle School in Bend in June. And it revealed there have been more instances of people being allowed in to use the restroom without proper check-in.

The investigation’s findings come after a public information request by Central Oregon Daily News.

Surveillance video of the event was also released in multiple clips. It shows Bear being let into the school and interacting with at least two men and a woman inside before being escorted out.

Thomas Lee Bear was able to enter the school on the morning of June 7 to use the bathroom. The district said he did not gain access to hallways or classrooms and was never in the presence of children.

Here is what the district said in a release of its findings:

The investigation found that within a few seconds of Bear’s arrival to the office lobby, he was escorted beyond the school’s locked doors to a staff bathroom in the administrative offices area.

Upon exiting the bathroom he was escorted back to the lobby, where he briefly sat in a chair.

At this time, it was reported that Bear appeared to be experiencing a medical emergency.  Soon after, school medical support was requested.

Bear left the school as support arrived, only to turn and be escorted back to the lobby for evaluation.

Bear made his way out of the school’s front doors for a second time, a few minutes after his original arrival at the building. Building administration contacted law enforcement and made a public announcement that the school was in SECURE status. The school remained in SECURE status until Bear was taken into custody by law enforcement.

SECURE is basically a lockdown. It means the doors are locked and nobody is allowed in or out of the school.

Thomas Lee Bear 2020 booking photo
A 2020 booking photo of Thomas Lee Bear.

READ: Bend-La Pine release of investigation findings

READ: Letter from Bend La-Pine Superintendent Steven Cook to parents

The district went on to say that allowing Bear to come inside beyond the secure area of the school without a mandatory check-in was a violation of district policy.

Additionally, the district said its investigation found this was not the first time staff or the administration has allowed someone inside to use the restroom without proper check-in. It’s happened over several years. The district did not elaborate beyond that.

The district said it addressed the situation with staff, but did not elaborate on what specific disciplinary measures may have been taken. But, it did say progressive discipline can range from a reprimand to termination.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Dr. Steven Cook said the breach of protocol was unacceptable.

“The event at High Desert Middle School on June 7, is not indicative of our culture and our commitment to safety at Bend-La Pine Schools,” Cook said. “Entry by the public into secure areas of our schools, without mandatory check-in, violates district policy, puts our school communities at risk, and is not acceptable.”

Cook also revealed in his letter that principal Wendy McCulloch has left for a new position in Washington State. Cook did not say if her departure was in any way connected to this incident. An interim principal is expected to be named next week.

Central Oregon Daily News asked to interview Dr. Cook Friday, but we were told he was in meetings.

RELATED: Child sex crimes offender got inside Bend’s High Desert Middle School

RELATED: Bend police arrest man near school; Was on parole for child sex crimes

Hear the 911 call

Audio from the 911 call was released three days after the incident.

“We just had a stranger come in our building and ask to use the restroom. He’s safe. He’s outside the building now but seems like there’s some mental health or physical health issues,” the assistant principal said on the call.

The call was placed while Bear was outside the building in the bus area. The assistant principal, who was making the call, said the school nurse was attempting to engage with Bear. That was after Bear had already been inside to use a bathroom located beyond a secure door.

“He entered our bathroom and then came out panting, covered in water. So that’s why I thought maybe he had a health issue, like he’s dehydrated or overheated of some sort. But he’s communicative but won’t answer many of our questions (inaudible) what need help?  What do you need?” the caller said.

More background on Thomas Lee Bear

Bear was convicted of sexually abusing a 14-year-old on the Umatilla Reservation in 2013

In 2020, he was charged in Deschutes County with four counts of second degree sexual abuse, two counts of third degree sexual abuse and one count of criminal trespass for an incident involving a girl under the age of 18.

He pleaded guilty in April of that year to one count of second degree sexual abuse and one count of third degree sexual abuse, while the other charges were dismissed. Bear was sentenced to two years in prison.

Bear signed a document confirming that, upon release, he would have no contact with the victim in his case and no contact with minors.


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