A Polk County elementary school principal is shaken, but safe tonight after a frightening incident. An ex-con and alumni of her school snuck in and began beating her on Monday.
It happened at Oscar J. Pope elementary school just outside of Lakeland.
Investigators say 42-year-old Elester Trudell was wearing a plastic bracelet, like the one you would get after being released from a hospital.
Whatever was driving him, he certainly had principal Qvonda Birdsong momentarily worried about her own safety and the safety of the kids.
"It was freaky. Very scary, very unnerving. It was almost like it was surreal, like it wasn't happening," she said.
But it did happen, and Trudell is behind bars again. It's a place he knows well -- his arrest records is three pages long, and includes a variety of charges from drugs to battery, among others. He has been bouncing in and out of prison for the last 25 years.
Monday, he ended up at Pope Elementary, just as kids were arriving.
Trudell apparently walked through a door that was left open for students. He walked down a hallway, babbling and screaming. When he got to the front office, making a scene, staffers called Birdsong.
When she arrived, she says Trudell had his back to her.
"And to be honest with you, when he turned around and looked at me, I could tell I was in trouble. And probably two seconds later, he was all over me, just like that," Birdsong said.
Trudell hit Birdsong three times in the arm before a nearby janitor pulled him off.
Now the door Trudell used is now being kept locked at all times. There is now only one way in or out, through the school's front door, right next to the office.
After the mass murder at Sandy Hook elementary in Connecticut a few months ago, Polk County considered the idea of having a law enforcement officer at every school full time.
But law enforcement agencies say they don't have the resources to do that.
Would it have made a difference if there was a law enforcement officer at the school when it happened? There's no way to know.
What is for sure is that Polk schools are now dealing with a new "normal." They say schools used to be built to seem as welcoming as possible.
"Now because of society changing , we're going back and looking at ways we can remedy that, but still not make them look like they're in prison," said Greg Bondurant, Polk County director of safe schools.
In Polk, teachers keep their classroom doors locked except when classes change. Visitors have to wear an id, all because of scares like this.
"It could happen anywhere, unfortunately," said parent Dana Plunkett. "It happened here and they did the best they could to keep the guy from hurting anyone else."
Trudell is charged with trespassing, battery and causing a disturbance at a school. There's no word yet on bond.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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