ROCKLAND — Police seized several high-powered rifles Tuesday from the home of Rockland man who said voices in his head told him to “go shoot up a school,” prompting a lockout at several area schools.

Police searched the man’s home Tuesday afternoon and seized two shotguns, five high-caliber hunting rifles and another rifle, Rockland Deputy Police Chief Christopher Young said.

It wasn’t clear Tuesday whether the man owned the weapons or if he had past mental health issues. Young said his officers have had prior contact with the man, but he has never been charged by the department. The deputy chief said he did not know details of the interactions his officers had with the man.

Police were not identifying the man because he was at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport receiving a mental health evaluation and had not been charged with a crime. Young said that the man will be charged if he is released from the psychiatric unit.

Young said the man made the threatening statement Tuesday morning to an acquaintance who lives out of state, and that person immediately contacted the Rockland Police Department.

The deputy chief said he contacted the Knox County Sheriff’s Office to make sure that there were sufficient officers to guard each school in Rockland. Once officers were in place, police went to the man’s residence and took him into protective custody.

The man said voices in his head told him to shoot up a school, police said.

He was transported to Pen Bay Medical Center by Rockport police, and an officer will remain there until the man’s evaluation is completed.

Officers responded Tuesday morning to Oceanside High School, South Elementary School and the regional Mid-Coast School of Technology, all in Rockland.

Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent John McDonald said Rockland police said the threat was directed at Rockland schools, but he imposed the lockout on all RSU 13 schools as a precaution, affecting schools in Thomaston, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing. The lockout began at about 10:45 a.m. Doors to the schools were locked, and students were not allowed outside.

Rockland Police Chief Bruce Boucher said the response worked well.

“When you train, it goes like clockwork,” he said.

The superintendent issued a statement at 11:22 a.m. that the lockout was over and schools were safe.

“School safety continues to be our No. 1 priority and we always act swiftly to make sure students are safe,” McDonald said in his statement. “We follow all of our safety protocols and work in partnership with our law enforcement agencies.”

Area residents reacted on social media to the police department’s actions, saying they derailed what could have been a much more serious incident.

“Thank you to school officials and the police involved with the incident today on a quick and successful response,” Celia Knight said in a comment posted on the police department’s Facebook page. “To the third party who reported it, thank God. So sad that it happened at all and pray that it doesn’t happen again, but unfortunately it’s the world we now live in.”

“The out of state acquaintance who called the police on this guy may well have saved dozens of lives. Yes, it can happen here,” John Snow commented on Facebook. “The police need this kind of help. Collectively, citizens know a lot more about where guns are in the hands of unbalanced people than the cops do, and if someone jokes about this sort of thing, it’s no joke.” McDonald praised the rapid and thorough response of both Rockland police and the sheriff’s office.

“These are troubling events and troubling circumstances,” McDonald said Tuesday afternoon after learning of the seizure of weapons and the man’s comments.

He said that he and the schools’ administrators will meet with the chief and deputy chief Wednesday.

“I’m sure that the police will give us any assistance we need,” McDonald said.

The RSU 13 board and the Rockland City Council have voted to support the police department’s effort to seek a grant to pay for an officer in the schools. Boucher has said the earliest a school resource officer would be in the Rockland schools, if the city gets the grant, would be January 2019.

Loren Andrews is chairman of the RSU 13 school board and a practicing psychotherapist. He praised the individual who tipped off police, calling it “an act of greatness” that may have saved lives.

“There are 2,000 souls we are responsible for in this district and we take that mission very seriously,” Andrews said Tuesday night. “We are going to go on tomorrow and treat it as a normal school day.”

Press Herald Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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