BREAKING: Armed gunman who threatened school employees caught

Published 8:19 pm Monday, April 15, 2024

An armed intruder who broke into Jennings High School early Monday and threatened employees with a gun, forcing classes to be canceled was arrested Monday evening after being spotted on the Jaenke Bridge, just north of Jennings

Police Chief Danny Semmes said Dillion Champagne, 37, was taken into custody without incident after he was seen walking on the Jaenke Bridge on La. 97, following an all day manhunt. Police believe Champagne, who was wet, had been hiding along Bayou Nezpique, a tributary of the Mermentau River.

State Police and other law enforcement conducted ground and aerial searches throughout the day using drones, dogs and helicopters in an attempt to locate Champagne.

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He is facing charges of theft of a motor vehicle, aggravated burglary, aggravated assault with a firearm, aggravated armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Champagne is accused of stealing a crawfish truck in Acadia Parish and driving it to a truck stop store in Jennings where he stole a BMW that was being transported, according to Semmes. The BMW was later found abandoned on Interstate 10 near the school.

Superintendent John Hall said Jennings High School was not targeted, but was located near where the suspect ran out of fuel on the interstate.

Champagne is believed to have looked for an open door at the school before following a custodian inside the building. The custodian had been emptying trash prior to the start of the school day.

“The suspect went into a classroom where he was confronted by the custodian who asked him to leave and walked him out,” Hall said.

After leaving the building, Champagne walked over to a nearby track and practice field where he confronted two employees who were taking a morning walk before school. The suspect confronted  one of the employees with a gun and took a set of car keys before fleeing into a wooded area just northeast of the school.

The suspect allegedly fired a gun into the air as he was walking away from the employees, according to both Semmes and Hall. No one was injured.

Authorities believe Champagne may have been in the building for about 10 minutes and changed his shirt while inside the school.

“We are currently investigating how long he was in the building and what rooms and hallways he was in,” Hall said.

School officials immediately made a decision to cancel all classes and activities for the day due to what they described as an external threat on campus.

“Employee and student safety will always be a priority,” Hall said in a statement. “Canceling school is always a difficult decision, but with the information that was gathered in a short amount of time, I didn’t want any of our staff or students in the area.”

The school remained closed Monday as law enforcement spent most of the day reviewing surveillance videos, collecting information and searching the area. Baseball practices were also canceled and all games were moved out of town as a safety precaution for students, Hall said.

Additional security was sent to James Ward Center for Excellence, Jennings Elementary School, Our Lady Immaculate Catholic School and the Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home.

All Jennings schools will be in session on Tuesday.