Ridgway High School student, 17, arrested in shooting near Santa Rosa campus
A student at Ridgway High School was arrested Tuesday after police said he shot a classmate feet from the Santa Rosa campus before entering the school, prompting a terrifying 2½-hour lockdown affecting thousands of students at three campuses that ended after police pulled the suspect from class in front of his peers.
It was the first time a student has been suspected of shooting another directly outside a Sonoma County school in an era where campus shootings have exposed a generation of American students to active shooter drills and altered their perceptions of safety in the classroom.
The shooting was initially reported to police just before ?9 a.m., bringing a swarm of officers and SWAT personnel to the campus off Mendocino Avenue behind Santa Rosa High. Nearby Santa Rosa Junior College, along with the two high schools, was locked down during the incident.
The 16-year-old boy who was shot, also a student at Ridgway, was struck twice in his upper body and driven to a nearby hospital by a friend. He was in stable medical condition and is expected to survive, Santa Rosa Police Capt. John Cregan said.
The shooting and police response sent a jolt through the Santa Rosa school community, alarming thousands of parents and relatives - some of whom rushed to the side-by-side high schools while others gathered at a staging area set up by police near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. For some, it was the second time in five months that a report of a gunman had sent them rushing the area, though the prior incident, reported at Santa Rosa High School on graduation day, involved a student who had brandished a replica gun and no one was hurt.
Santa Rosa resident Nelson Alvarenga, 35, waited for hours on Tuesday morning before his nephew, a senior at Ridgway, was released.
“We’re concerned,” said Alvarenga, a cellar master at a local winery. “These are young kids and this shouldn’t be happening to them.”
Through witness statements and video surveillance taken from the school, which captured both a brief shouting match between two boys and the subsequent gunfire, officers determined the 17-year-old suspect had stashed a handgun in a backpack and then put the pouch inside a car that left the area, Cregan said.
Police did not release any more information about the identity of the vehicle’s driver or the whereabouts of the gun Tuesday, though officers were following investigative leads and asking witnesses to come forward with information about the car, Cregan said.
The suspect was seen walking into a nearby gym class after the shooting and officers, believing he was no longer armed, worked with school officials to safely detain and arrest him, Cregan said. Though the student was not scheduled to be in the classroom during that period, students and school staff are trained to go to the nearest room during a lockdown, Cregan said.
The suspect, who was not named because he was a minor, was booked into Sonoma County’s juvenile hall on suspicion of attempted murder and was ineligible for bail, Cregan said. A second student who was initially detained given his close proximity to the suspect at the time of the shooting was questioned and released after officers determined he was not involved in the shooting, Cregan said.
“This, we know, is a very unnerving, traumatic incident for our students, for the teachers and for our community,” Cregan said. “It’s a priority for us to be able to locate this handgun and get it off the street and make sure no one else is injured.”
Hours after the shooting, police had not yet established a motive, a question that detectives would seek to uncover in the coming weeks, Cregan said. It was too early to tell if either the suspect or the victim had gang ties, he said.
“That’s something that we’re going to be exploring with the witnesses as the investigation progresses,” Cregan said. “We’re going to be doing a comprehensive review ... about what led up to this and (whether) this has been talked about on the school campus.”
School shootings have increased in recent years nationwide, including many involving a shooter or shooters who kill multiple people. But this is the first instance of gunfire erupting on or near a Sonoma County campus, according to multiple law enforcement officials. This shooting didn’t involve someone with a gun roaming a school campus but was specifically targeted, police said.
The lockdown, which began about 9 a.m. moments after the shooting, included about 250 students who attend Ridgway High, a continuation school for students who require a smaller, nontraditional setting to complete their high school credits, as well as about 1,900 at the adjacent Santa Rosa High School, said Beth Berk, a spokeswoman for Santa Rosa City Schools. Both campuses share a school resource officer, Berk said. That officer, who was at Santa Rosa High, ran to the adjacent high school immediately after the gunfire was reported at the intersection of Ridgway Avenue and Morgan Street, just west of the continuation high school, Cregan said.