The Washington School District was closed Thursday after a school custodian allegedly tried to buy a gun and ammunition while warning of “a lot of shooting.”
The custodian’s erratic behavior had prompted school officials to suspend him Wednesday.
Thomas W. Wingfield, 33, Union, is in police custody in O’Fallon following a string of incidents early Thursday.
Wingfield was charged in Franklin County Associate Circuit Court Thursday with felony possession of a controlled substance after police searched his house and found over 35 grams of marijuana.
Wingfield also was charged Thursday in St. Charles County with a felony count of unlawful use of a weapon, a handgun which he waved at a stranded motorist early Thursday.
According to the probable cause statement filed in the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office by the Multi-County Narcotics and Violent Crimes Enforcement Unit (MCNVCEU), a witness who was with Wingfield said he had attempted to purchase an additional handgun and 500 more rounds, but was denied.
The witness also told police Wingfield had recently been suspended from his job at the Washington School District and he had made statements about “a lot of shooting at 7 a.m.” Thursday.
Washington Police Detective Sgt. Steve Sitzes said Wingfield was acting “bizarre” this week and reportedly making strange demands and statements to friends and co-workers at Washington High School.
His behavior prompted district officials to suspend him Wednesday and contact the police, Sitzes said.
Washington police attempted to get Wingfield help because of his behavior, but he refused.
Sitzes said a meeting had been set for 1 p.m. Thursday with Wingfield, police and school officials to address his behavior. Wingfield was not suspected of any crimes or wrongdoing at that time, Sitzes said.
The situation changed early Thursday. At around 2 a.m., Wingfield was believed to have been involved in an incident along Interstate 70 in St. Peters where he allegedly flourished a handgun at a stranded motorist.
That incident was investigated by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Later Thursday morning, an O’Fallon police officer encountered Wingfield at a QuikTrip. The officer reported finding a gun on the floor in the store, Sitzes said. After a brief investigation, the officer discovered the gun was left by Wingfield.
Sitzes said Wingfield was seen looking into a police vehicle in the parking lot and acting strangely. Wingfield, who was still at the store, was told to leave, but he said he knew his rights and didn’t have to go.
The officer said Wingfield grabbed some candy and left the store. He was arrested for stealing, Sitzes said, and his car searched where O’Fallon police seized recently purchased high-powered scopes for rifles, binoculars and 500 rounds of ammo from Wingfield’s vehicle.
While in custody, he continued to act erratically and stripped off his clothes, police said.
Following his arrest, O’Fallon police contacted Washington police about Wingfield’s statements and behavior.
Sitzes said no direct threat was made to the high school or district, but police contacted Washington School District officials who decided to close all of its school buildings Thursday until police had completed their investigations.
Sitzes said police were concerned because Wingfield had access to Washington High School and worked mostly alone at nights. He said the department needed to check the school to make sure it was clear.
Working with the MCNVCEU, the Union police searched Wingfield’s residence in Union and located marijuana and two empty boxes that had contained rifles recently purchased by Wingfield.
Sitzes said the firearms, two Henry rifles, were later found at a family member’s home near Sullivan.
Sitzes said with Wingfield in custody, it’s likely he will be sent for a mental evaluation.