Calif. police, teachers who subdued school attackers hailed as heroes
By Jason Dearen
SAN MATEO, Calif. — A teacher being hailed as a hero said Tuesday he had no time to think when he encountered a 17-year-old boy who detonated two pipe bombs at a Northern California high school while armed with a chain saw, sword and explosives.
Teacher Kennet Santana, 35, is one of a number of Hillsdale High School staffers credited with subduing the boy, who police say walked into the San Mateo school Monday morning and set off two pipe bombs in a hallway near a library.
Santana told The Associated Press he saw the commotion and was walking cautiously toward it when he found himself face to face with the teen.
"He had a black tactical vest on with lots of pockets," Santana said by phone Tuesday. "We were maybe six feet away from each other at this point. We're talking seconds. There was not time for a lot of thinking."
Santana stopped the boy with a bear hug and threw him to the floor. He was then joined by Principal Jeff Gilbert and school counselor Ed Canda, and the three held the boy down until police arrived.
There was little risk the other bombs would go off because the boy hadn't lit the fuses.
"He was not struggling," Santana said. "It was almost like he was defeated."
The explosions caused neither serious damage nor injury, but the 1,270-student school was evacuated, and Santana and the other staff members were credited with stopping a situation that could have played out much more tragically.
Evidence collected so far suggests the boy had planned the attack for months, and that he had a number of specific targets on the school faculty whom he believed had wronged him, San Mateo police Chief Susan Manheimer said.
"He had planned in brutal and chilling detail this action over months," she said. "He clearly was out to demonstrate he could get back at the school administration."
Police Lt. Mike Brunicardi lauded the work of Santana and other staff members who helped subdue the boy.
"The teachers acted heroically and risked their own lives," Brunicardi said. "(They) were not taking into consideration their personal safety. They were taking the greater good into mind to save 1,270 students and about 100 school staff members."
Police quickly arrived and arrested the teen on suspicion of six felony counts of attempted murder, igniting a destructive device with intent to murder, possession of destructive devices, possession of destructive devices on school grounds, possession of destructive devices with intent to injure or destroy property and assault with a deadly weapon.
The boy, whom police have not identified because he is a minor, is being held in San Mateo County's juvenile hall while the district attorney reviews the evidence and decides whether he should be tried as an adult.
Police and agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched the apartment where the boy lives on Monday night.
"They did find materials consistent with making explosives, specifically pipe bombs," Brunicardi said.
Student Olivia Pappas, 14, was in her tenth-grade classroom when she saw the boy walk by. He was wearing black pants and a black, hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head, she said.
"Then I heard a crashing sound, and my teacher looked out and we saw a guy run," she said. "My hands were shaking. It was so scary."
Back on campus Tuesday, Santana and other teachers discussed the incident. Students were scheduled to return on Wednesday, and teachers, students and others will gather to discuss the incident in the morning, then restart classes in the afternoon.
"We had more people running to the explosion than we had running away from the explosion," Gilbert said. "So I think that speaks to the staff and just what they feel about the students."