Brown remembers close call

FAIRMONT – A newspaper page in a frame hangs in Joe Brown’s office at Fairmont Elementary.

The pictures of the 26 fatalities of Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 surround a small amount of type. He keeps it as a reminder of what could have been Sept. 11, 1997.

That was the day a teenager brought a handgun to Le Seuer-Henderson High School with a plan to shoot an estimated dozen people.

Now superintendent at Fairmont Area, Brown was then principal of Le Seuer-Henderson.

Corey Lehnert was known to administration since he had been suspended for a year for bringing a sawed-off shotgun to school and had been in trouble before.

“We had two ninth-grade girls who told us this would happen,” Brown said. “We took the threat seriously.”

Seriously enough that they put the school in lockdown. Staff members who knew Lehnert on sight stood guard at the door.

“At 9:30 in the morning, this kid ran in through the door,” Brown recalled.

With every classroom locked, Lehnert holed up in the only place he could find open: a bathroom.

Police officer Tom Nelson entered the bathroom and checked the stalls one-by-one, Brown said. Nelson realized which one Lehnert was in and as Nelson opened the door, Lehnert fired his handgun.

“He shot Officer Tom Nelson in the head,” Brown said.

The bullet entered Nelson’s forehead above the eyebrow at an angle and exited just inches away.

Though wounded, Nelson knocked the gun out of Lehnert’s hands, handcuffed him, brought him outside and then collapsed.

Nelson was back on the job in two weeks and is now retired, Brown said, adding that Lehnert went to prison and was recently released.

“What prevented Le Seuer from being known as Columbine was we had kids who had a positive relationship with adults in the school and came forward to tell us,” Brown said.

“At no time were any of our kids in danger,” he said. “Had those two kids not come in to tell us the night before, there’s no doubt our kids would’ve been hurt.

“I hope I never go through another situation where a student or adult gets hurt,” Brown said.

Yet he can’t help but worry about the future.

“When I look at the police blotter, we still have a lot of abuse going on,” he said. “Domestic abuse and drug violations, that concerns me.

“I wish as a group and society, we could dial that back,” Brown said. “Those things that happen at home, if you have kids, has a negative impact on the family.”