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NEW: Man charged with trying to break into middle school during lockdown

Damaged door at TJ Middle School entrance (photo courtesy anonymous)

Update on 3/1/23 — Charges against the suspect were dropped, with certain conditions, as part of a deferred disposition deal with prosecutors.

A man who allegedly tried to force his way into a locked down middle school after claiming to be armed is facing charges.

Alexander Sentayhu, 25, thought there was an active shooter in Thomas Jefferson Middle School after, police say, he received text messages from relatives inside this past Friday afternoon. The school had been secured and locked to the outside due to a robbery at a 7-Eleven store nearby.

Sentayhu went to the school to pick up his relatives, “believing there may possibly be an act of violence occurring inside,” Arlington County police said.

“Upon finding the school locked, the suspect called the Emergency Communications Center indicating he was armed and requested access to the school,” police said. “At approximately 12:51 p.m., the suspect kicked the door, breaking the glass, and continued to try to force the door open. He was unsuccessful in gaining entry and left the scene prior to the arrival of officers.”

Police on scene at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Sentayhu spoke at a White House press conference with Vice President Kamala Harris in April, highlighting the issue of medical debt, according to news reports. ARLnow previously reported on an online fundraiser for Sentayhu in early 2020, after he incurred steep medical costs while suffering a significant heart issue.

The news reports on the press conference noted that Sentayhu served in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Sentayhu turned himself in Friday night and was charged with Destruction of Public Property. He was released on bond but may face additional charges, police said.

In a press release Monday evening, the police department assured residents that it is well prepared to respond to incidents of active violence in schools, while pledging to work with Arlington Public Schools to communicate with families and residents about such incidents.

A parent told ARLnow on Friday that students and parents were initially panicked when the school was abruptly secured without explanation. It happened amid anxiety about school violence following the May 24 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

More from an ACPD press release, below.

An Alexandria man has been arrested after damaging property in an attempt to gain entry into Thomas Jefferson Middle School during a school lockdown. Alexander Sentayhu, 25, was charged with Destruction of Public Property and turned himself into police on the evening of June 10, 2022. He was subsequently released on an unsecured bond. The investigation into the incident is ongoing and additional charges may be sought at a later time.

At approximately 12:21 p.m. on June 10, police were dispatched to the report of an assault with injury involving a weapon inside a business in the 200 block of S. Glebe Road. In the interest of public safety, responding officers requested Thomas Jefferson Middle School be placed on a secure status due to its proximity to the business. Shortly after, the suspect arrived to pick up his relatives who are students at the school. Upon finding the school locked, the suspect called the Emergency Communications Center indicating he was armed and requested access to the school. At approximately 12:51 p.m., the suspect kicked the door, breaking the glass, and continued to try to force the door open. He was unsuccessful in gaining entry and left the scene prior to the arrival of officers.

During the course of the investigation, officers identified the suspect and made telephone contact with him. The preliminary investigation indicates the suspect received text messages from a relative inside the school stating they were in lockdown and responded believing there may possibly be an act of violence occurring inside.

This remains an active criminal investigation and anyone with information that may assist with the investigation is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Response and Communication During a Reported Active Violence Event

We understand community concerns regarding reports of active violence incidents, however, the incident that occurred at Thomas Jefferson Middle School could have had a tragic outcome. An unidentified individual attempting to force entry into a locked school could be perceived as an active threat.

The top priority of the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) remains the safety and security of our community. In the event of an active violence incident reported at a school, ACPD along with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners will respond to address any threat and investigate the incident.

Arlington Public Schools (APS) and ACPD will communicate to the school community, as well as the broader community regarding the incident. Updates will include a request to avoid the area to allow public safety response, location of reunification with students/guardians, and other critical information. Updates will come through ACPD’s twitter account, Arlington Alert and APS School Talk.

Maintaining Police Operational Readiness

The ACPD is committed to maintaining operational readiness by training and equipping officers to effectively respond to any reported public safety threat in Arlington County. Over the last 20+ years, ACPD has developed a number of programs to better prepare officers to respond to reports of active violence. The current approach began in 1999, with the development of a training program after the tragedy at Columbine High School. Over the years, ACPD has continually updated and expanded the tactics and training of these programs to address changes by offenders.

In January 2013, ACPD formed the Tactical Training Unit (TTU) to ensure consistent training throughout the agency as we prepare and equip officers to take immediate action to stop the threat during an active violence event; provide medical care as quickly as possible; and to effectively command and control the scene in conjunction with Arlington County Fire and EMS personnel. TTU training integrates the disciplines of Active Violence Response, Tactical Emergency Casualty Care, Control Tactics, Firearms, General Tactical Instruction and Taser. As part of their preparedness training, patrol officers respond to no-notice mock training scenarios and practice responding to various incidents. ACPD participates in the Arlington County High Threat Response Program which is designed to ensure an integrated response to active violence events by police, fire and other County/Regional entities which is reinforced through collaborative training.

Additionally, ACPD works in conjunction with Arlington Public Schools and Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management on emergency response to reports of active criminal incidents, to include family reunification. ACPD is also a member of APS’ threat assessment team and safety audit committee.

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