On Thursday, March 1, some parents at the Vaughn schools in Pacoima hung around the campuses a little longer than usual. Others took their sons and daughters to class with apprehension: there was a noticeable police presence, something that was necessary after a threat was reported against the schools.
The rumors of potential trouble began circulating among some parents early last week, and on Feb, 23 school officials sent out a message confirming them, sending chills through parents at Vaughn Next Century Learning Center and M.I.T. (the elementary and middle school, respectively):
“This message is to inform you that Los Angeles Police Department Detectives have been investigating the social media threat made to Vaughn this week. At this time they feel confident that they have identified the source and have mitigated the situation,” the message stated.
“Nevertheless, in order to support our school community, on March 1st they will be assigning a police unit to drive around our schools along with two foot patrol officers that will be walking the campus at Mainland and MIT. In addition, we will have school police officers that will be positioned and assisting at VISA (the high school).
“We want to stress that there is no immediate threat to our campuses at this time and we are proceeding with police assistance in an abundance of caution.”
While the school’s response was reassuring, several parents consulted by the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, and who asked for anonymity, expressed uneasiness about sending their kids to school.
They also spoke to what they perceive as a general lack of proper security at the schools. All are located near the intersection of Vaughn Street and Herrick Avenue, and there are no armed security guards.
“I’m a little worried because I saw my son somewhat scared the day (when the message was sent),” one mom said. “My husband thinks he should go to school, that we shouldn’t be fearing whether it’s going to happen or not. I hope it’s a bad joke and that detectives and police have things under control.”
“I don’t feel my son is safe because I don’t think the security guard is well-prepared,” said another parent who added she sent her son to school.
Several other moms said they would “stick around” the school just in case anything happens.
While some parents shared the school message with their kids, others opted not to worry them.
The parents who spoke to the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol weren’t the only ones feeling apprehensive.
Since the deadly massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14, a rash of threats against schools have swept through Southern California. Whether as a copy cat, to cause fear, to express anger, or simply for fun, they have been wreaking havoc on school days and parents’ nerves.
Last week threatening messages were sent to Santa Clarita Valley International School, which was placed on lockdown. On Feb. 22, a 14-year-old boy allegedly threatened officials at Tincher Preparatory School in Long Beach. A day earlier, a 15-year-old freshman at Millikan High School in Long Beach who was allegedly overheard making a threat was arrested, police said.
On Feb. 20, a 16-year-old junior at Wilson High School in Long Beach was arrested after allegedly threatening to harm others at the school, police said. On Feb. 22, a student at John F. Kennedy High School in La Palma was arrested for allegedly making criminal threats on social media.
Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City was closed on Feb. 23 in response to a potentially threatening message posted on Instagram by Jonathan Martin, a former student who went on to play for the Miami Dolphins and was at the center of an NFL bullying scandal.
Los Angeles county Sheriff Jim McDonnell held a press conference to announce the arrest of a 17-year-old student from El Camino High School in Whittier who was overheard by a security officer talking about harming people at the school.
When Sheriff deputies went to check his house, they found two AR-15 rifles, two handguns, unlocked ammunition and easily accessible to anyone. They also arrested the student’s older brother — an adult — who said the guns were his.
During that press conference, McDonnell noted that a total of 19 school threats had been reported since Feb.14.
“Whether a child articulates violence because they need attention, counseling or mental health assistance, or are simply joking, the idea of committing such acts is staggering and increasing nationwide,” McDonnell said.
“Parents, this should be a wake-up call for all of us,” he stressed. “Please, talk to your kids, no matter how young, about the challenges we are facing in society today. If you don’t, someone else will.”
McDonnell reminded the public that “every tip is a lead. We ask, as peace officers, concerned residents and parents ourselves for you to remain vigilant and report any information about potential threats to local law enforcement.”
That was also the message sent by Los Angeles School Police Chief Steven K. Zipperman, who also stressed the dire ramifications of such messages on those held responsible for them.
“These threats are unlawful, regardless of intention, and may result in serious criminal and civil consequences that include possible financial restitution for hours spent on investigations. They also may have serious administrative consequences at the school level, including possible expulsion and graduation implications” he wrote in a message sent out to all LAUSD schools.
The Los Angeles School Police Department has an anonymous 24-hour Weapons Hotline at (800) 954-4357 (1-800-954 HELP).