Kennedy High students recount terrifying active shooter threat, evacuation
Two days after students nationwide walked out of class to make a statement against school violence, a student threat to bomb John F. Kennedy High School forced a mass evacuation and closure of the Sacramento campus Friday.
Police investigators and bomb experts searched the school as students were immediately moved to a nearby Elks Lodge.
Principal David Van Natten informed parents that "many of your students have received a random text threat this morning directly to their phones," according to Kennedy High School's Twitter account.
By mid-afternoon Friday, police cleared the campus to open, giving students and staff time to retrieve their cars and belongings, Van Natten told parents.
Police had no suspects in the case, although the department believes the suspect is a student.
"It's typical after a large shooting like in Florida that there are copycats around the country and we have seen that around the country," said Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn. "In some circumstances, if everything meets the legal requirements we will arrest people if we can find out who did it ."
Students circulated an Instagram post showing two 9:50 a.m. texts believed to have forced the evacuation. The text chain described being tired of being bullied and made fun of, then threatened to shoot and blow up the school at 11:11 a.m. It said bombs were placed in classrooms in two separate wings on campus and ended with a "kkk" hashtag.
Matthew told reporters Friday that the text described bombs in two different buildings, but police looked throughout the school for explosives. The Greenhaven school has more than 2,000 students enrolled.
Joan Taylor was teaching her French class at Kennedy when a student approached her around 10:25 a.m. and said, "Madam, have you seen this?" He showed her his phone. It was the second threatening text circulated within the school that week.
Five minutes later, Taylor received an administrative email acknowledging that the text was under investigation and urging teachers and staff "not to panic the students."
Then the school's "lockdown alarm" sounded. "We're all scared, and we go into drill mode," Taylor said. She locked the doors and turned out the lights. "We're huddling in the dark, and as we're looking out the window we see kids frightened and running."
At around 10:45, the school's administrator announced on loudspeaker that the school was being evacuated. They were to stay in their classrooms until an escort came to lead them out. Taylor and her students were still in their room at 11 when another announcement instructed them to leave.
"One of my students was stuck in the bathroom, crying hysterically," she said. "We all just ran down the stairs and out of the building."
Freshman Yulissa Santana was in her biology class when a friend showed her the Instagram post. As she read it, the school's alarm went off.
Students initially didn't take the warning seriously, Santana said. When her teacher told them it wasn't a drill, many began screaming and crying. Santana and a friend grabbed loose chairs and began building a makeshift fortress to protect them against an explosion or shooter.
"We had a lot of girls that were freaking out. We were calming them down. We were like, 'OK, we're safe, we have the wall, we're going to be OK.'"
Parent Jason Montiel said his son is home safe after being given a ride home by a friend.
"So far the school seems to be doing the best they can, but as a parent, we are very concerned," he said.
Montiel said it was the second threat at the school this week. The school sent a notice late Tuesday about a different alleged threat. "It was cryptic and we haven't heard anything since then," he said.
He said he and many other families opted to keep their children home on Wednesday the same day as the national student walkout to protest school violence.
A voice mail from Van Natten on Tuesday night informed students that there had been a threat toward a specific student that was being investigated by two separate law enforcement agencies. It said the threat was ongoing. He said extra police officers would be on campus Wednesday as a precautionary measure.
Many Kennedy students participated Wednesday in the National School Walkout honoring the 17 victims of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting and calling for changes that reduce gun violence. Photos of the Wednesday march posted by the school showed students with signs stating, "We next?" and "Never Again!"
There have been 70 threats to the nation's schools per day since an assailant killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., according to the Educator's School Safety Network.
There have been over a dozen threats or perceived school threats in the Sacramento region alone since Parkland, according to school districts.
Students and parents at Monterey Trail High School in Elk Grove also were on edge Friday morning after a man threatened to shoot students Thursday on social media. On Thursday night, Monterey Trail Principal Erik Swanson sent an email to parents saying the threat had been investigated and police had found it "not credible."
Taylor said teaching in an environment of threats of gun violence "is horrifying, and you can see it on the faces of the kids. They're afraid to come to school. That's unfathomable. It's indefensible that our country has normalized this. The fact that we even have to do these drills is horrifying.
"I don't know what's going to happen on Monday," she said. "I wouldn't send my kid to school under these circumstances. There is no learning happening in terror."
Explosive ordnance disposal specialists and K-9 teams searched the campus before it reopened in the 3 o' clock hour. The parking lot was still filled with cars belonging to employees and students hours after the evacuation.
"We will ensure this school is safe and there are no devices or anything of danger on this campus come Monday," Hahn said.
Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said extra security would be at the school Monday, as well as additional counselors to assist students and parents. He said parents can call (916) 643-9042 if they have been unable to contact their child.
"If these are cries for help, we are here to help any of our students," Aguilar said, suggesting that the perpetrator may need counseling. "We will follow the investigation and participate in the investigation.
Aguilar said he hoped it was a plea for help from a troubled student, but if not, "obviously there will be disciplinary actions that we will have to take."