Whitman Elementary School in Lewiston was placed on "soft lockdown" for about an hour Wednesday afternoon as law enforcement officers searched for a handgun allegedly discarded by a man fleeing arrest.

Lewiston police, FBI agents and tribal officers had been surveilling a residence on the 1700 block of 12th Avenue in Lewiston, where they believed Julian D. Simpson was located. Lewiston Police Lt. Joedy Mundell said Simpson was wanted on a warrant out of Umatilla County in Oregon as well as one in Nez Perce County.

According to a Lewiston Police Department news release, officers followed a vehicle that left the residence and eventually pulled into the parking lot of Burger King on 21st Street. When they attempted to make contact with the 22-year-old Simpson, he ran, according to the news release.

Moments before, Whitman Elementary Principal Tim Sperber noticed police cars driving slowly past the school. He then saw Simpson running and police in pursuit.

"He was heading directly towards campus," Sperber said.

Sperber put the school on lockdown by securing the front doors, the only outside entrance normally left unlocked during the school day.

Police found Simpson a short time later hiding in the backyard of a home on the 1900 block of Ninth Avenue near the school and took him into custody at about 2:30 p.m. Mundell said an officer chasing Simpson saw him discard a gun. Because they could not immediately locate the weapon, the school remained on lockdown even after the arrest. Sperber said classes continued, but the children were kept inside.

Meanwhile, a police dog was brought in to help find the weapon. Mundell said that while the dog did not pinpoint the location, he did show strong interest in one particular area, a thick juniper shrub bordering a home on the corner of Ninth Avenue and 20th Street. Police eventually found the gun there.

At nearly the same time, the school day ended and children were allowed to leave. However, teachers were posted at the corners of 20th Street and Ninth and 10th avenues to prevent students from wandering into the search areas. Sperber said buses were loaded on 10th Avenue, behind the school building, to keep the Ninth Avenue area clear.

Mundell declined to say why Simpson was wanted, but said it is related to an active federal investigation. Officials at the FBI's Portland, Ore., office said they were unaware of the arrest. Simpson is being held at the Nez Perce County Jail on a bench warrant from Nez Perce County, according to the jail.

Simpson was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver in 2012 in Nez Perce County. At that time, court documents listed him as a resident of Lapwai.

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Tribune reporter Mary Stone contributed to this report.

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Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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