Officials locked down McKinley Elementary on Thursday afternoon after a man escaped from the Billings Clinic psychiatric center by throwing a bed through his room window.
John McGuth, 46, left the hospital shortly before 1:30 p.m.
Billings Police Lt. Kevin Iffland said the man voluntarily admitted himself to the hospital for a five-day stay when he ran away, which means officers likely won’t arrest or detain him.
“At this point we don’t have anything to detain him on,” he said. “Unless the hospital orders a pick up and hold on him, we can’t force him to do anything.”
According to Montana state code, a person who is voluntarily admitted must request release in writing and the hospital can hold that person involuntarily for as many as five days after the request.
It was not clear when McGuth checked in or if he had requested release.
During the initial search, officers thought they found McGuth on the 7400 block of Burlington Avenue shortly after 3 p.m., but it turned out to be the wrong person, Iffland said.
Lt. Mark Cady said he believes McGuth is from Shawmut.
Hospital officials declined to provide specifics of the escape but did say that they have a response plan in place for such incidents.
“When the incident happened, we immediately contacted law enforcement and Billings Clinic security,” Billings Clinic spokeswoman Julie Burton said. “We are fully cooperating with the authorities and will be available as needed to care for this patient at the appropriate level of safety.”
Police notified officials at McKinley, 820 N. 31st St., which went on lockdown for about an hour while officers searched for McGuth.
McKinley Principal Bert Reyes said the school was notified of the escape at 1:21 p.m. The school locked doors and shut blinds on the first-story windows.
“Students and teachers remained in their classrooms and carried on as usual,” Reyes said. “It went very smoothly.”
Students from kindergarten through third grade were dismissed early. Teachers stood with the children in their bus lines and escorted them aboard. Students being picked up by their parents were kept inside until the parents arrived.
The rest of the students were released after the lockdown was lifted at around 2:30 p.m., Reyes said.
This isn’t the first time the school has been on lockdown due to a psychiatric center escape. Reyes recalled at least three other times, the most recent being last year.
“The city is very good at notifying us,” Reyes said.