A man with a history of convictions including child sex crimes in Deschutes County made his way inside High Desert Middle School in Bend Tuesday morning. The Bend-La Pine School District confirmed that safety protocols were not followed.
Parents, concerned about school safety, say they want answers.
“Yes, he was inside the building,” Bend Police spokesperson Sheila Miller told Central Oregon Daily News Wednesday.
The district and police confirmed 40-year-old Thomas Lee Bear got inside without going through the mandatory check-in procedure.
“He did arrive through our front doors and he made his way through a secure door into the administrative offices in our building where there were no students present,” said Julianne Repman, Bend-La Pine School District Director of Communications and Safety.
Parent says son texted her before school did
A call to police was placed at 10:41 a.m., Miller said. A Deschutes County Sheriff’s deputy arrived a minute later, followed by a Bend Police officer at 10:48. Bear was found near Knott Road and was in custody by 11:00 a.m.
High Desert Middle School parents were sent an alert Tuesday that the school went into SECURE at 10:40 a.m. — which prevents anyone from entering or exiting the building. It was lifted at 11:15 a.m. when police said they had a suspect in custody.
However, parent Julie Schmidt said her son was texting her that something was wrong several minutes before she got the alert.
“I had received a message 22 minutes prior to that alert text message from my son that just simply said, ‘Mom, there’s a bad guy in the school,’” Schmidt said.
District says safety protocols weren’t followed
Superintendent Steven Cook emailed a letter to parents Wednesday confirming that safety protocols were not followed and that an investigation is underway.
“The event at High Desert Middle School yesterday is unacceptable and not indicative of our culture and commitment to safety in our schools,” Cook wrote. “We take the safety of our students and our staff seriously. Unfettered entry by the public into our schools is not acceptable, violates our policies, and puts our school community at risk.”
Cook said that district protocol is that all visitors report directly to the school’s main office to get permission to visit. They must sign in and out. The system is also supposed to tell staff if someone is present who is on the national sex offender registry.
Cook did not state in the letter how Bear actually got inside or that Bear had been convicted of child sex crimes.
For some parents, the explanation was not good enough.
“I just don’t think that his response is adequate,” said parent Dan Anderson. “So, I think for one thing, we should have an apology as parents based on what happened here.”
The incident comes as parents across the country have school safety top-of-mind following the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas where 19 children and two teachers were killed.
Bear’s criminal history
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.
He also had a no-bail federal warrant from the U.S. Marshals, police said.