Rio Americano shooting threat leaves students, parents nervous

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A school shooting threat found Friday on a bathroom wall at Rio Americano High School and a similar note located the same day has sparked an investigation by local and federal authorities, leaving parents and students struggling to decide how to respond this week.

A campus employee found the words “I’m shooting up the school” written on the wall in graffiti, said Sgt. Lisa Bowman, sheriff’s spokeswoman. The graffiti indicated the shooting would occur Wednesday, said Principal Brian Ginter in a letter on the school website Tuesday.

In an email to parents Tuesday afternoon, Ginter said law enforcement officials have completed a threat assessment and that the “credibility of the threat was found to be low.” The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department contacted the Department of Homeland Security and FBI as a matter of protocol.

Sheriff’s deputies still considered the threat serious and were investigating, Bowman said.

Despite additional safeguards, many students stayed home Tuesday, according to classmates who attended school. Students said they expect many more will be gone Wednesday. District officials weren’t sure Tuesday afternoon how many students were absent, but they said 100 asked to go home early.

Deputies determined that the threat on the bathroom wall was put there sometime in the 24-hour period before it was discovered. Later Friday afternoon, another school employee found a note in the same stall. It said the school shooting date had been changed to Tuesday, Bowman said.

Investigators are looking at handwriting samples and searching for fingerprints, she said. “If we can determine that we can identify a person, they would be held on criminal charges for making the threat,” Bowman said.

Two off-duty sheriff’s deputies employed in San Juan Unified’s Safe Schools Program will be stationed at the school all week, Bowman said. Other deputies on patrol in the area have been notified of the threat and are watching for suspicious people, she said.

District employees also are at the school to offer “great visibility of adults on campus,” Ginter told parents.

Tuesday, many students said they were “tense” and “nervous.” Throughout campus, students after school could be heard talking about the threat and whether they would be at school the next day.

Students had spent the last four days tweeting, blogging and discussing the threats on social-media sites.

Sophomores Paula Samano, 15, and Veronica Lopez, 16, sat on a brick wall discussing the situation after school. Lopez said she was nervous about being at school, while Samano said she was not. Both said their parents let them decide whether to attend.

“Making up the work wasn’t worth it,” Samano said.

Michael Alcalay said his daughter was at school Tuesday and would be today.

“I’m actually very pleased with the way this school has been handling this situation,” said Alcalay, who is running for the San Juan school board in the Nov. 4 election. “You never know how credible a threat is. Ninety-five percent of the time I would say that you don’t have to worry, but you are always concerning yourself with the 5 percent of the time.”

The discovery of the threat on the bathroom wall Friday came after a morning protest by about 100 Rio Americano students. The students refused to go to class and were angry that a student had been suspended after getting into an altercation with a vice principal Oct. 14.

A few students said Tuesday they did not think the shooting threats were linked to the protest.

After school Tuesday, students played on the football field, filled the gymnasium and practiced water polo in the pool, Alcalay said.

“The kids feel safe,” he said. “They are going about their normal routine. We can’t allow a very small segment of the population to disrupt our lives. The district and school are taking this seriously and are putting forth the resources to keep our kids safe.”

Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.