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May 06, 2007
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Report of gunfire at San Diego elementary school

Police find no evidence that rounds were fired

By Kristina Davis and Matthew Rodriguez
San Diego Union Tribune

VISTA, Ca. – A report of gunfire at Olive Elementary School yesterday left hundreds of parents to imagine the worst as they gathered behind police lines for hours, awaiting news of their children inside.

Their anxiety turned to relief when the Sheriff's Department announced that it didn't appear any shots had been fired after all, and that all the children were safely locked inside their classrooms.

“Thank God!” exclaimed one tearful mother as the good news filtered through the dense crowd of parents.

The call of possible gunshots came at 11:18 a.m. Parents were unable to reach their children for several hours as officials called for lockdowns at eight schools within a 1-mile radius of Olive Elementary, including three private schools. The schools have a total enrollment of more than 5,000.

At some schools, children were instructed to stay under their desks for a couple of hours while officers searched each classroom.

Hundreds gathered on street corners, calling relatives on cell phones or sending text messages to their children to make sure they were all right.

The crowds watched as law enforcement officers from around North County descended on the area, accompanied by firetrucks and ambulances.

San Diego Unified school police Chief Don Braun said yesterday that three students from Correia Middle School and the School of Creative and Performing Arts have been arrested on suspicion of scrawling threats on campus buildings.

The threats also came on the heels of the Virginia Tech massacre.

“That's what makes it so scary,” said Marianne Herndon, who waited at a 7-Eleven on Olive Avenue in Vista, with hundreds of other parents.

At the end of the day, Vista Unified sent an automatic voice message to district parents from Superintendent Joyce Bales. “Principals and teachers did an excellent job of taking care of our children,” she said. “Our most important job is to make sure our children are safe and feel secure.”

The day started when an adult at Olive Elementary reported hearing what sounded like three gunshots in a field behind the school, Brust said.

At the same time, a person, possibly a parent, entered Olive Elementary without authorization to pick up a student, Sgt. Art Wager said. Moments later, a school employee reported a suspicious person in front of the school.

In addition to Olive Elementary, locked-down schools were: Washington Middle School, Vista Focus Academy, Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, Maryland Elementary, Tri-City Christian elementary and high schools, and St. Francis Catholic School.

“We spent about two hours under our desks,” said Monica Bailey, an eighth-grader at Washington Middle. “I didn't know what was going on. I was crying.”

Carlos Villalobo, an eighth-grader, said his mother sent him photos of the deputies and a helicopter flying overhead.

One parent reached her child's teacher and talked briefly with her 7-year-old son on a cell phone. “I just asked him if he was OK,” said Andrea Apodaca. He told her he was scared and he loved her, she said.

After deputies searched the schools, parents were instructed they could pick up their children if they had photo identification.

“Children don't deserve this,” said parent Jason Loman as he and his wife, Eva, waited for their 5-year-old son. “They're here to learn, not be scared.”

Chuck Taylor, chief operating officer for Vista Unified, commended the schools for following procedures and said district officials plan to meet with the Sheriff's Department next week to discuss yesterday's response. Last night, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, Mayor Jerry Sanders, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and local school superintendents held a news conference to assure parents they were doing everything possible to keep schools safe.

Those arrested face suspension or expulsion and possible criminal charges that could result in time in the California Youth Authority.

Officials said graffiti threats of shooting and bombings at San Diego schools were pranks, some of them copycat acts. Such graffiti has also been found at Kearny High and Serra High in San Diego, Poway High School and Rancho Bernardo High School.

Staff writer Helen Gao contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 San Diego Union Tribune

Full story: Report of gunfire at San Diego elementary school

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