A day after the three thermal schools were evacuated, the school district and sheriff’s department released more information about the chain of events, revealing for the first time that administrators didn’t call police for more than an hour after being told they might had a gun. the campus.
A spokesperson for Coachella Valley Unified also explained why parents weren’t told what was happening for hours Wednesday after a lockdown and evacuations began.
Two 13-year-old students have been arrested and booked into juvenile hall on firearms charges, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department announced Thursday, adding that one admitted to bringing the gun to school and the other said he hid it in a backpack for the first boy. .
Other students told adults at the school that they had seen a boy with a gun at a bus stop and that he had posted pictures of himself with it on social media the day before, a sheriff’s department news release said.
During the search of the backpack, a deputy also found a suspicious device that looked like a grenade and turned out to be a toy.
About 3,700 students plus staff at Las Palmitas Elementary, Toro Canyon Middle and Desert Mirage High were all evacuated as the sheriff’s department’s hazardous equipment team came to the high school and bomb technicians irradiated the object found in the backpack and considered safe. No one was hurt.
The three schools share a complex near Tyler Street and 66th Avenue.
For hours Wednesday, neither the school district nor the sheriff’s department released information to the public about why the evacuations were happening. Three parents told The Desert Sun early Wednesday afternoon that they had not been contacted by the schools about the incident, but found out about the evacuations through word of mouth.
On Thursday, the school district confirmed it sent three messages to parents via phone, email and text in the afternoon, but the announcements didn’t begin until after most students had been evacuated on buses to nearby schools.
CVUSD spokeswoman Lissette Santiago said parents weren’t notified earlier in the day because “everything was an ongoing investigation” and the school district didn’t learn from the sheriff’s department about the reason for the evacuation until shortly after it began around 10 a.m. 45 of the morning
According to Santiago, a student saw a peer with a gun at their bus stop in front of school Wednesday morning, but that student did not report the gun to the bus driver. The student reported the gun to a school administrator shortly after arriving at Toro Canyon Middle around 9 or 9:05 a.m.
Between 9:12 and 9:15 a.m., the administrator followed district protocol and began an internal investigation into whether a student possessed a gun on campus, Santiago said.
However, law enforcement was not notified of a campus threat until about 10 a.m., Santiago said.
Santiago said district protocol requires school personnel to conduct an internal investigation before contacting law enforcement.
She said the first suspect interviewed by an administrator did not reveal any additional information.
“It all started with rumors,” Santiago said.
She was unclear how administrators eventually obtained additional information that warranted a call to the sheriff’s department.
“Once, I think, there was more information, then law enforcement was contacted to verify the findings,” Santiago said.
Deputies received a call about 10:10 a.m. and were on the scene for about 10 minutes, Sheriff Chad Bianco said Wednesday. Santiago said a standoff in Toro Canyon began shortly after deputies arrived, when one found the handgun in a backpack next to a student.
Only Toro Canyon was initially closed, Santiago said. Although the three schools share a compound, each is separated by fences. She said administrators at Las Palmitas and Desert Mirage were notified of the ongoing investigation and subsequent closure at the high school.
After the deputy reported the suspicious device, all three schools were evacuated to the softball fields at the complex.
Santiago said school personnel were not told by the sheriff’s department why they had to evacuate until later in the day.
After evacuations were ordered around 10:45 a.m., Santiago said district personnel devised a plan to send students and staff to nearby school sites. Those from Las Palmitas were sent to Oasis Elementary and students and staff from Toro Canyon and Desert Mirage were sent to Coachella Valley High.
Santiago said about 25 bus drivers — a third of the district’s total — were making the rounds between schools, and efforts were slowed because the rest were unavailable. Drivers usually work split shifts for morning and afternoon routes and are off the clock in the middle of the day.
Santiago wasn’t sure how many trips it would take to transport everyone.
The county’s transportation department has recently suffered from a severe bus driver shortage that has caused students to run late to school or wait more than an hour at shady bus stops.
In total, the evacuation process took about two hours.
All of the approximately 3,700 students plus staff were evacuated by bus around 12:40 p.m., Santiago said.
“Did we want to evacuate our students sooner? Absolutely,” she said. “Was it possible? No.”
Santiago said the district had never experienced an event like this where they had to evacuate so many people.
She added that if another event like this happens, CVUSD could do better in several areas, including transportation and communication.
Although neither the district nor the sheriff’s department had released official information about Wednesday’s events by noon, many students were calling and texting their families, which Santiago said spread a lot of anxiety and misinformation.
“Especially when the wrong information is communicated by anyone, it just creates more chaos,” she said.
Santiago did not say how the district would approach its communications strategy differently going forward.
Santiago said one aspect her district handled well was making sure meals, snacks and water were available to every student once they were safe at other schools. She also said the district ensures that all students with special needs, including those with dietary restrictions and those with medical devices, stay safe and have their needs met.
“We had a group of nurses that were with us from the beginning that took care of those students,” Santiago said.
The first round of parent communications was sent by the district at 12:21 p.m., Santiago said.
“It was too short,” she said. The message, according to Santiago, told parents that students were in the process of being evacuated and told them where to meet them at 1 p.m.
Santiago said a second message, a pickup reminder, was sent early in the afternoon.
She said a third message sent around 3 p.m. notified parents that if they still weren’t able to pick up their students from Coachella Valley High, then the district would return them to their normal bus stops or Desert Mirage and Toro Canyon, which had been given the all-clear by then by the sheriff’s department.
Santiago was unable to say how the district helped parents know if their students were taken to bus stops or their school sites, but she said all students were reunited with their parents or returned to their bus stops around 4:00 p.m.
Santiago said staff had a briefing Wednesday evening. She said additional counseling resources were made available to students and staff at all three schools Thursday.
Santiago pointed out that while there was never an active shooter on Wednesday, most of the district’s personnel attended active shooter training over the summer. She added that the district’s goal is for all staff, students, parents and community members to complete such training.
She did not say when or explain how the district would administer training to community members.
Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Contact him at [email protected] or @Writes_Jonathan.