Approximately 35 parents crowded into a classroom at Hubbard Street Elementary School the morning of Oct. 13 to get answers from the principal and school police after what they felt was a lackluster response to a man who allegedly threatened to shoot the students the previous week.
After about an hour and a half, the meeting concluded, and parents left not feeling any more reassured for their children’s safety than before.
“A lot of people were disappointed in the meeting because it didn’t really pursue what we wanted,” Noberto Pablo Martinez said, whose grandchildren attend the school. “In the end, the principal [Joseph Casas] just let people know that LAUSD has policies and we need to follow them.
“This was an emergency. It should be a little different.”
On Oct. 4, Antonio Montelongo, 30, came to the school around 8 a.m. and allegedly told one parent that he had cancer and was going to shoot all the kids at the school. Los Angeles School Police (LASP) and LAPD were called to the scene and the school was placed on lockdown. However, the authorities could not find him, and they eventually left and the lockdown was lifted before 9 a.m.
Once police were gone, Montelongo returned to the school. A handful of parents recognized him from his description and tackled him to the ground as he was taking off his pants. Police were called again and he was arrested and the school was placed on a second lockdown.
Montelongo faces eight charges for making a criminal threat, indecent exposure and trespassing. He’s being held on $100,000 bail. His pre-trial hearing is Oct. 24.
Last Friday’s meeting was the second held by the school, but unlike the previous one, this meeting was limited to only 35 people in person; other parents had to tune in through Zoom. School officials said that it was to avoid getting in trouble with the fire marshal by letting too many people into the classroom; Casas said the auditorium could not be used due to it being renovated. Parents attempted to protest this restriction by not attending the meeting, but they eventually relented.
Aside from Casas — who wasn’t at the school during the incident — the meeting included Vice Principal Karina Nichols, Vice Principal and Elementary Instructional Specialist Adriana Arriaga and LASP Sgt. Juan Escobar. The meeting began with Escobar attempting to dispel some of what he said was misinformation that was being spread online.
Escobar said that police responded within two to three minutes of the first 911 call and the school was on lockdown for 27 minutes, which he explained is a long time for a school to be on lockdown, before it was lifted by the LAPD.
“We try to take them [schools] off lockdown as soon as we believe it’s safe enough,” Escobar said. “We don’t like leaving schools on lockdown too long. When it gets to one hour, two hours, then we have to start going into more of an evacuation moving people off campus. … If we don’t know who this person is and we don’t have him in custody, we don’t want to pull people out of classrooms and now they’re in the open air or they’re walking down the street.”
Escobar then claimed that after police left and the lockdown was lifted, there was still one LASP and LAPD patrol car in the area. He said that after the second 911 call was made, police responded within three minutes rather than the 15 minutes previously described to the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol by parents.
The meeting then opened up to questions. One parent asked if there would be LASP patrols around the campus, to which Escobar responded that officers would come by every so often but could not be there all the time due to a shortage of officers. However, he did mention that they would ramp up patrols if Montelongo is released.
One father asked Escobar why he didn’t have an officer stationed on campus after the initial incident, to which he replied that he is not allowed to because of a decision by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education; LASP would first have to get approval from the superintendent.
One mom asked why the students were let outside after the first lockdown was lifted when Montelongo was still at large. Casas attempted to explain that they can’t keep kids inside all day, which parents were quick to refute, since that already happens when it rains.
Another parent asked Casas why he wasn’t at the school the day of the incident. He explained that he was at O’Melveny Elementary School in the City of San Fernando for an instructional meeting and his phone was turned off.
By the time he turned it back on, around 10:30 a.m., the second lockdown was already lifted. He stayed behind to finish the meeting, going back to his school around noon. Parents criticized him for not leaving as soon as possible and the students should’ve been his priority.
“Thank God he [Montelongo] had no gun, but if he had a gun, the story would be different,” Martinez said. “I think this principal should be fired … because he’s not taking this seriously and blaming somebody else and he thinks we’re making a big deal out of it.
“He’s not professional to me. I think this job is too big for him.”
The subject of effective communication also came up in the meeting. Casas explained that the district’s communication tool, Blackboard Connect (BBC), is a bit limited due to only being able to send three lines of text and that information does lag somewhat because they have to make sure what they send is accurate.
One parent refuted the first claim, showing this reporter a text from the school with at least seven lines of text. Another said the information they did receive wasn’t completely honest, as the messages sent said that there was a threat in the area but neglected to say it was towards the students, nor did they mention that Montelongo returned and exposed himself to the students.
One mom criticized the lack of accurate information, claiming that when she spoke with one of the teachers about what happened, the teacher thought the lockdowns were drills and didn’t know the full extent of the incident.
“Why didn’t they brief the teachers? The teachers didn’t know what happened either,” said Rosa Vargas, who listened to the meeting through Zoom. “They have a right to know as well because at the end of the day, they have family to go home to.”
By the end of the meeting, parents came away from it feeling dissatisfied with the answers given and the lack of responsibility.
“I was waiting for him to take some [accountability] and say we dropped the ball and we apologize for that,” Vargas said. “Not once did they ever say they’re sorry about that, they regret what happened or the way things were done. And I think that’s all we want to hear, is we’re sorry, we’re going to make changes. But instead, they said protocol, protocol, protocol for everything.
“Mr. Casas was pretty much evading the more serious questions as to why they didn’t let the parents know,” Vargas continued. “To this day, [most] parents still don’t know exactly what happened. It’s just what the principal and the school want to say.”
Martinez said that many questions parents wrote down to be asked were left unanswered, and he was dissatisfied with the Spanish translation provided during the meeting, saying it was “horrible” and “not accurate.”
“He made his plan to wash his hands [of the incident] … the officer said they did what they could, we have a low budget and we followed rules from LAUSD and then blamed it on the LAPD for lifting the lockdown,” Martinez said. “But let’s do better for our kids. I don’t want to let them out of classrooms until we know it’s secure for sure.”
For Vargas, whose daughter is still attending school, all she can do is wait and see what happens next and hope the school doesn’t drop the ball again. When asked for her thoughts on the meeting, she put it simply:
“It was a waste of time.”