On the first day of the new school year in Billings, security was heightened at Broadwater Elementary School due to safety concerns regarding a neighbor seen wielding a firearm in recent weeks.
The man lives on Broadwater Avenue, directly across from the school’s playground.
“It was a surprise and I didn’t really know what to think about it,” Broadwater Elementary school parent Julie Alderman said after dropping her son off at school Tuesday morning and seeing police on campus.
“I thought school might get canceled, but it didn’t,” Alderman said. “We got to walk (her son) in the front doors, and I think once he’s inside he’ll be safer.”
Other parents, like Sarah James, echoed Alderman’s concerns.
“The first day of school already has enough going on,” James said. “It shouldn’t start this way.”
The man told MTN News his name is Gabriel and did not provide a last name. He did agree to an interview on camera. He said that the decision to publicly hold his firearm in his front yard has nothing to do with the students.
“I have armed for self-defense and in defense of my loved ones and others as well,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel said that this began with a dispute with a neighbor and that legal proceedings are ongoing.
“I’m not here to intimidate or frighten,” Gabriel said when asked about what he would say to parents and teachers. “I’m exercising my constitutional right. I have no ill will towards any of them.”
The school isn’t taking any chances. Broadwater opted to have recess in a parking lot behind the school, shielding the students from the man’s house. Additional officers patrolled the campus throughout the day.
Billings Police Lt. Matt Lennick said for now, the best help police can provide is additional officers in the area because Gabriel is not breaking any laws and doesn’t have a criminal record. Lennick said police have received about 28 calls to the residence in the past few months.
“We don’t put extra officers in just a random neighborhood for no reason,” Lennick said. “So far, this individual is within their right, and we don’t have a state statute that allows us to take any legal action here so we have to let it play out.”
Lennick said that police are in touch with federal law enforcement to determine if federal law permits police to get involved.
“It’s a bummer that school had to start this way,” Lennick said. “We are doing everything we can to ease the situation as best we can.”
It’s a situation that is still developing, and one that parents hope will change.
“I don’t want my daughters to be on lockdown for their entire school year,” James said. “That’s 180 days. I want them to be able to return to some type of normal.”