BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Students who were locked down at Palo Alto High School after police received a shooting threat yesterday (March 29) were told to throw books and canned goods if an intruder entered their classroom, a student told the Post.
“They said that if anyone walked through the door, to start throwing that,” said freshman Perla del Rio, referring to canned goods collected for a food bank in her Spanish classroom. “They said to throw them and then to run into the other door and we would, like, hide into the other room.”
Last week, a Pennsylvania school superintendent made headlines when he told the House Education Committee in Harrisburg that his students in the Blue Mountain School District were armed with 5-gallon buckets of river stones to throw at intruders.
As it turned out, the call that police in Palo Alto received yesterday was a hoax. The perpetrator has not been arrested.
It began at around 12:31 p.m., when police dispatchers received two 911 calls from a cellphone with a male voice identifying himself by first and last name and threatening to “shoot up” the school in 15 minutes.
Students were kept in their classrooms at 50 Embarcadero Road from sometime before 12:49 p.m. to around 2:05 p.m., after police determined that the threat was a hoax.
Heavily armed officers from the Palo Alto, Mountain View and Menlo Park police departments along with deputies from the Stanford Department of Public Safety blocked access to the school with police cars and yellow caution tape.
Police remained on campus even after the lockdown was lifted to reassure frightened students, police said.
Students who were eating lunch off campus when the lockdown started were kept off campus until the school reopened.
Along with dozens of nervous parents, the locked-out students waited across the street at the Town and Country Village Shopping Center.
Paly seniors Nicholas Lee and Cullen Tellez were heading back to campus after getting lunch at Driftwood Deli and Market when a teacher on El Camino Real told them to get away from campus.
Nicholas said his friends who were locked down kept each other updated with texting and social media.
“There was a bunch of Snapchats,” Nicholas said. “Everyone’s so freaked out. It’s scary, you know, all the police here with automatic rifles. It’s scary.”
Ben Bernstein, a junior at Paly, said he hadn’t participated in a lockdown drill since freshman year, but that his Spanish class knew what to do when the lockdown was announced.
“Me and a few other kids grabbed chairs and barricaded the door, and then we shut off the light and we all kind of hid behind the teacher’s desk,” Ben said. “Everyone knew what to do, and it was very organized and orderly.”
Detectives are trying to determine the identity of the caller.
Caller used name of Paly student
The name matched a current Paly student, but when police contacted him and searched his belongings in his locked-down classroom, it became clear that he had not made the threat.
The boy’s cellphone number didn’t match the number that was used to make the call.
Police determined that the call was made from a cellphone that belonged to an adult with no connection to Paly. It had been either lost or stolen at Town and Country.
The phone’s owner had deactivated the phone when he or she realized it was missing, so when police tried to call the number, it didn’t receive their calls, but was still able to make the 911 calls.
A number of students and employees have passed along tips to police about who the caller might have been. When found, the caller will face several criminal charges and possible civil liability for the cost of the law enforcement response.
“We would like to emphasize that hoax threats such as this are not only criminal in nature, but they also create a great deal of stress and anxiety for students, parents, school staff and the community in general,” police said in a statement. “The law enforcement response to this incident was significant, and took officers away from their other important duties and calls.”
The threat was the third made against a school this week in Silicon Valley.
Cupertino High School was evacuated on Tuesday afternoon after the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office received a robotic-sounding call threatening harm to the campus.
Videos circulated on social media showing students running away from campus after the evacuation order was announced.
On Monday afternoon, San Mateo police placed a man into protective custody after he admitted to threatening to gun down a school at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store on March 23.
“It’s like an epidemic. I’m just surprised that it’s been this long,” said David Butler, a security guard who works at Town and Country Village.