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McGhee Tyson air base lockdown is over. Officials say report of armed person was a misunderstanding

The Knoxville News-Sentinel logoThe Knoxville News-Sentinel 1/15/2020 Hayes Hickman and Travis Dorman, Knoxville News Sentinel
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A lockdown ended at Tennessee's McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Wednesday afternoon and everyone was safe after a report of a suspicious person who appeared to be armed turned out to be a misunderstanding, officials said.

a truck is parked on the side of a road: Multiple law enforcement agencies are responding after McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base was placed on lockdown in response to a possible gunman Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. © Travis Dorman / News Sentinel Multiple law enforcement agencies are responding after McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base was placed on lockdown in response to a possible gunman Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

A student had reported seeing a suspicious person with what looked like a weapon, said Lt. Col. Travers Hurst, a spokesman at the airbase near Knoxville.

After searching the base and re-interviewing the student, “We now believe they didn't see what they thought they saw,” Hurst said. “Everyone is safe. There were no shots fired and no injuries.”

Authorities had locked down McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base at 11:15 a.m. after a report of a suspicious person armed with a gun sparked fears of an active shooter.

Personnel at the base were told to stay in place Wednesday afternoon. There were no confirmed reports of a shooting, officials stressed during the lockdown.

The Tennessee National Guard tweeted "there are no reports of injuries."

Commercial flights into and out of McGhee Tyson Airport were not disrupted, said spokeswoman Becky Huckaby. McGhee Tyson Airport since the lockdown began. 

McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, home to the 134th Air Refueling Wing and 119th Command and Control Squadron, is located about 10 miles south of downtown Knoxville, near Alcoa in Blount County. The military base and commercial airport share the McGhee Tyson name, but their operations take place in separate facilities.

Chief Master Sgt. Shaun Withers told reporters gathered outside the base that only security officers and law enforcement personnel are allowed to carry weapons on the campus.

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Authorities conducted a methodical, building-to-building search for anything suspicious.

"Lockdown, lockdown, lockdown means barricade, lock doors, close windows, shut off lights, turn off your cell phones," Withers said. "In an exercise or in a real-world situation, if you are in an active shooter situation you don't want to alert that shooter to where you're at.

"And again, this is training that we've been going through for a long time."

Withers, who is assigned to the I.G. Brown ANG Training and Education Center on the base, added that all of the center's students and instructors were accounted for. The center provides continuing professional training for Air National Guard personnel.

a car parked on the side of a road: Tennessee state troopers block the road to McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, after reports of a person armed with a gun prompted a lock down. © Saul Young/News Sentinel Tennessee state troopers block the road to McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, after reports of a person armed with a gun prompted a lock down.

In addition to the 134th, the Tennessee Air National Guard's 119th Cyber Operations Squadron also is based at McGhee Tyson, along with elements of the Army National Guard's 1-230th Assault Helicopter Battalion.

All told, more than 1,000 personnel among the various units are stationed there, according to CW4 Nick Atwood, Tennessee National Guard public affairs officer.

Authorities blocked an access road and allowed only first responders to enter and exit the air base. A slew of marked and unmarked police cruisers could be seen entering the gates of the air base along with multiple large armored vehicles. 

Officers from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, the Knoxville Police Department and the Alcoa Police Department were on the scene.

There has been heightened concern about gun violence on military bases after shootings at military installations in Florida and Hawaii killed five people in December. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: McGhee Tyson air base lockdown is over. Officials say report of armed person was a misunderstanding

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