Gun brandished at Thatcher school dance

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: A man who brandished a handgun at a Thatcher after-game dance was arrested early Saturday morning. 

Gunman held at bay by DJ

By Jon Johnson

THATCHER – What should have been a joyous occasion celebrating the Thatcher football team’s win over Morenci nearly turned into a tragedy seen all too much around the nation.

According to a press release from the Thatcher Police Department, 72-year-old Robert Layton brandished a handgun at the Thatcher after-game dance held in the school’s parking lot late Friday night because he was upset over the loud music.

Thatcher Police Chief Shaffen Woods told the Gila Herald that Layton drove to the parking lot and approached the dance’s DJ, Bryson Wren, shortly before 11:45 p.m. and complained about the music. Wren then directed Layton to Thatcher High School Principal, Jeffery Lords.  An estimated 150 students were at the dance, along with school staff and the DJ. According to Woods, a Thatcher officer was on scene within one minute after receiving the call.

According to a second press release, Lords said Layton told him he was going to shut the music down and grabbed the principal by his shirt. Layton then allegedly began waving his 9-mm handgun around while it was still inside a nylon holster. The gun was later found to have a loaded magazine but did not have a round chambered.

When Layton began to pull the wires of Wren’s music setup out, Wren pushed Layton to the ground and pinned the arm Layton was holding the gun against his own body to prevent him from firing. Layton allegedly struck Wren in his face, but Wren managed to keep control of him until police arrived. Wren still had a hold of Layton as an officer approached and disarmed him.

“We are very thankful no one was seriously injured during this incident, “Woods said. “I want to express my appreciation to the DJ, Thatcher High School staff, and students for their quick thinking and response to this incident. I would also like to thank the Safford Police Department and the Graham County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers and deputies for assisting us with this incident.”

 After alerting to the gun, students scrambled from the area, with many hiding in an adjacent cotton field. Some students were then picked up by older students with vehicles and were transported from the scene.  

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Robert Layton

Layton was taken into custody and complained about being injured during the ordeal. He was transported by Lifeline Ambulance to the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center for treatment and was booked into the Graham County Adult Detention Facility after being medically cleared, according to the release. Layton reportedly suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and has been sickened by other ailments for at least the past five years. He was booked into the jail on charges of disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon, misconduct with a firearm, criminal damage, and aggravated assault.  

“Bryson Wren did an outstanding job of containing this subject and deprived Layton of any opportunities to use the weapon if he had decided to do so,” Woods said. “Wren’s quick thinking and courageous actions were essential to the safety of everyone involved in this incident.”

“I am extremely proud and grateful for the actions of both Bryson Wren and Mr. Jeffery Lords, who without a doubt placed themselves in harm’s way during this incident to ensure the safety of students at Thatcher High School. I am thankful that no serious injuries occurred during this incident. I would also like to express my appreciation to the officers (who) responded to this incident in such a timely and professional manner.”

This article was updated at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.