Hardin Public Schools were closed on Friday as law enforcement asked for the public's help in locating a student wanted in connection with a gun incident in the high school last week.

School officials made the announcement on the district's Facebook page late Thursday night.

“Due to new information about the student at-large, we will be canceling all Hardin District Schools tomorrow for the safety of our students and staff,” the message read. “We ask that students remain home and safe.”

Big Horn County Sheriff Robert Simpson said Friday his department is asking the public’s help in locating the fugitive he named as Uttekaat Isaiah Jade Birdinground. Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s office at 406-665-9780, or 911.

“Do not approach this individual,” the press release reads, in all capital letters.

Superintendent Dennis Gerke said Friday that Birdinground, the student, had not attended school since last Friday. The school had disciplinary dealings with Birdinground in the past, but none had risen to the level of school safety threats, the superintendent said. 

A basketball game scheduled Friday night at Hardin High School has been canceled, and no other school activities will take place at Hardin School District facilities, including schools in Crow Agency and Fort Smith, until Birdinground has been arrested, Gerke said. 

"I just want to stress that safety for our students and our staff and our community is our No. 1 concern at this point," Gerke said. 

The closure comes on the heels of the recent arrest of Hardin High School teacher Nora Block.

Block has been charged with having a gun on campus, tampering with evidence and obstructing justice in connection with a weapon found in a school classroom over the weekend.

The incident apparently began last Friday when school officials were told a student had a gun at school and found the student in Block's classroom, according to court documents. No gun was found on the student, but sheriff's deputies returned to the school Saturday and were told that Block had found the gun while cleaning the classroom.

On Thursday, Big Horn County officials confirmed they are seeking a student’s arrest in connection with the incident. The student is accused of flashing a handgun at another student and demanding his lunch money. The student apparently carried the gun in the waistband of his pants, showing it to the victim as he demanded money last Friday, charges state.

Birdinground has been suspended and may be expelled. An arrest warrant has been issued for him.

Last Friday's incident was reported to school officials later in the day. They searched the student but did not find the weapon on him, according to charging documents, but a Glock 27 handgun was later found in a school classroom.

Surveillance video reportedly shows the student "walking around the school holding his waistband and looking into the principal's office, who was not in the building," according to the affidavit.

When asked about the gun, the student reportedly said he had been joking around with a black hair dryer that was in the classroom.

Charges state that another student later found the gun and gave it to Block, who didn't turn it over to school officials until the next day.

Block has been suspended with pay pending an investigation, said Superintendent Dennis Gerke. In her four years as an art teacher at the school, she had not previously been subject to disciplinary actions, he said.

Gerke said he plans to seek Block's termination.

3
10
13
6
9

Justice Reporter

Justice reporter for the Billings Gazette.