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Update: Police try to persuade shooting suspect to surrender; Kemper Elementary evacuated

Cortez Police investigate a shooting at a home next to Kemper Elementary Wednesday afternoon. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Kemper goes into lockdown, then evacuates students

A shooting in Cortez forced Kemper Elementary School students to evacuate the building about 1:25 p.m. Wednesday and led to an hourslong standoff with police.

Late Wednesday afternoon, police continued to try to persuade a possible suspect to leave the house, at 546 E. Montezuma Ave., with hands up, according to Cortez Police Chief Vernon Knuckles.

Police requested a search warrant, Knuckles said about 4:20 p.m. from the scene, since no one from inside the house had responded to requests to surrender. Knuckles declined to identify the suspect or disclose the suspect’s gender.

The search warrant for the house was denied, according to Patrol Lt. Rex Brinkerhoff, and the investigation was ongoing.

Cortez police were initially called to the house for a fight at 10:54 a.m., Montezuma County said on its Facebook page. The situation then escalated to a shooting, and an adult female was shot in the leg.

The shooting victim left the scene in a car driven by a female, Knuckles said. The car was pulled over by police at East Empire Street and North Mildred Road, and the victim was then taken to Southwest Memorial Hospital.

During a media briefing, Knuckles added that a gun had been retrieved from the house’s yard, and no one has been arrested.

Based on witness accounts, it was believed a possible suspect was in the house, he said. But after further investigation, it became unclear whether that was the case.

A Nixle alert from Montezuma County at 2:59 p.m. warned residents to avoid the area on East Montezuma Avenue from Park Street to Harrison Street. The area reopened about 5:25 p.m., and a reduced police force remained at the scene.

The house is on the northwest corner of North Adams Street and East Montezuma Avenue directly west of the school. Police tape surrounded the home, and was strung across North Adams Street.

All students and staff were safe, and school was out for the day, Vicki Shaffer, public information officer for the Montezuma County Office of Emergency Management, said about 1:45 p.m. at the scene. Students were led out on foot and walked east on Montezuma Ave. to the Cortez Library where they were picked up by bus or parents.

Kemper students were evacuated after a shooting and police investigation occured at an adjacent home. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

Emergency vehicles were positioned to shield the leaving students from the home under investigation.

Parents and guardians could be seen leaving the school with children.

We received alerts by texts, email, and phone messages about an incident nearby at 11:18 a.m.,“ said one parent.” Later, they said students were evacuated, and the school day had ended.“

About a dozen bystanders and neighbors observed the scene, including local media. Police instructed people to move farther away from the house and stay on the south side of Montezuma Avenue. They handed out water to officers and to local media.

A neighbor said she witnessed a fight on the porch that spilled into the yard, then heard the shot. Numerous calls to police were made.

Police on the front porch repeatedly called into the open front door of the home for the suspect to come out with hands up, but to no avail.

After several hours, pizza was delivered to police officers at the scene, and was offered to the suspect inside as well.

Cortez police use a mirror device to attempt to locate a potential suspect they believed was in a residence on Montezuma Ave. Wednesday afternoon. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

A large contingent of local first responders were at the scene, including the Cortez Police Department, Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado State Patrol, Cortez Fire Protection District, and Southwest Health System and Ute Mountain ambulances.

The situation at the scene and communication from the Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 school district evolved quickly, beginning just before noon Wednesday.

The school first went into lockdown about 11:20 a.m., according to a news release from Lis Richard, assistant superintendent and safety officer for the school district.

The original news release from the school district, emailed at 12:10 p.m., said nobody was allowed to enter or leave the school building.

“The incident was quickly resolved, staff and students are safe, and Kemper is now in full operation,” it said.

However, a news release from the district, emailed at 1:44 p.m., said the school went back into lockdown at 12:15 p.m., and that students would be dismissed at 2 p.m. from the library. Parents who picked up children would need to show identification, it said.

In an announcement published about 2:30 p.m. on Montezuma-Cortez High School’s Facebook page, administrators announced that the school – acting on a police recommendation – would cancel its homecoming parade, scheduled for Wednesday on Main Street.

According to Knuckles, police were not available to provide support for the parade because officers were dealing with the ongoing incident.

The Powder Puff was still scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Panther Stadium. The school said it did not plan to reschedule the parade. Athletic teams planned to practice as scheduled.

On Wednesday afternoon, Cortez police were attempting to persuade a possible shooting suspect to leave a house on Adams Street and Montezuma Avenue

This article will be updated when more information becomes available.