A 14-year-old student who reportedly “wanted to get a day off from school” at Bella Vista High School was arrested Wednesday in connection with a school shooting threat discovered last week at the Fair Oaks campus, authorities said.
The threat, written on a stall of a girls’ restroom, warned that shootings would occur on campus Monday. That day, only about half of the 2,000 students enrolled at Bella Vista were in attendance, Principal Peggy Haskins said. The other 1,000 either did not show up or left shortly after arrival.
The arrest followed a series of threats – most of them left in bathroom stalls – at five high schools in the San Juan Unified School District within the last two weeks. School officials said the first threat found at Rio Americano in the Wilhaggin area is believed to have prompted copycat threats at other schools.
The Bella Vista student, who is not being identified because of her age, faces a felony charge of making criminal threats, district officials said. She was taken to juvenile hall by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
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The arrested girl “told school officials she wanted to get a day off from school and she never intended to harm anybody,” district spokeswoman Kim Minugh said. The girl “described it as a prank, which unfortunately turned into very serious consequences,” including parents keeping their children out of school and campus anxiety.
Haskins said that deputies had a break in the investigation when students at the campus overheard a conversation in class that they then reported to the office. “The officers were able to follow the lead and track down the individual,” she said.
Haskins said that she had a sober discussion with the girl in her office before a sheriff’s deputy placed her in handcuffs and walked her from the campus.
The principal said she told the girl, “I am sorry that you are in this situation; however, your actions caused great harm on our campus, and it is my hope that this will serve as a turning point for you. I think this will help you think more carefully about decisions that you make.”
On Monday, the day of the expected violence, two to four deputies remained at the campus and “provided a calming effect.” By then, she said, authorities already were surmising that the threat was not credible.
Minugh said investigations into various threats of violence are continuing at school sites. Bella Vista, she said, wasn’t the only campus to see attendance decline.
The initial shooting threat left Oct. 17 in the bathroom at Rio Americano High School warned violence would occur Oct. 22. A second note found later said the violence would occur Oct. 21. On each of those days, attendance dropped about 5 percent below the norm, Minugh said.
Other threats followed at Del Campo, El Camino and Casa Roble, as well as Bella Vista, Minugh said.
Haskins called the episode “a great learning process for me.” She said school officials are discussing the possibility of using the experience as a training tool for students.
Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.