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.

School already was underway but some students were arriving for their first class during the campus’s second period, Cregan said. Several teens either saw or heard the shooting and called 911, reporting an altercation between two students and gunshots, Cregan said.

Ridgway High students Andres Farias and Rafael Rosales, both 17, had just parked and were walking to campus when they heard the first shot.

Farias said he looked up and saw a male wearing all black clothing holding a gun turn and run toward campus.

“I see smoke and I’m like, ‘Is this real?’” Farias said.

About 9,500 students were also placed on lockdown at the Santa Rosa Junior College campus farther north on Mendocino Avenue, college spokeswoman Kimberly Starke said.

At 9:12 a.m. Santa Rosa police issued a public alert that the three schools were locked down. Santa Rosa City Schools sent automated phone calls to parents just after 10 a.m. describing the incident as an “isolated shooting at one student” and saying it was “not being considered an active shooter situation.”

As the city’s SWAT team started a class-by-class search, two law enforcement helicopters and a drone searched from above, relaying information to Santa Rosa police officials at a command center on the ground near the school.

During the lockdown, police officials asked parents not to come to the schools but to go to the Jockey Club at 1350 Bennett Valley Road, just east of Brookwood Avenue near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Police officials were stationed there to help with information.

Though about 60 parents came to the Jockey Club, some parents rushed to the school campuses, many after receiving text messages from their children in locked classrooms.

Monday was the second time in five months that a report of a gunman sent Darrell O’Neal rushing to the Santa Rosa High campus where his daughter goes to school. In the prior case, back in May on the day of the school’s graduation, a student had brandished a replica gun before fleeing from the campus. No one was injured and the boy was arrested in the nearby Junior College neighborhood. The investigation and lockdown disrupted daytime graduation ceremonies at Ridgway.

“I’m worried about it,” O’Neal, 44, of Santa Rosa said as he stood on the sidewalk with other parents, waiting for news. “She’s only been in (high) school for a year and a couple of months now and we’ve already had a couple of these lockdowns.”

Mari Ferguson’s daughter, a senior at Ridgway, texted her mother at ?9:05 a.m. telling her she had heard gunfire and that the campus was on lockdown. Ferguson, 47, of Santa Rosa said she immediately came to campus. She was standing with a growing group of parents on the sidewalk across from campus at Glenn Street and Ridgway Avenue.

“I panicked so I’m here, I just came,” Ferguson said.

Parent Ili Lawson said her daughter, in math class at Santa Rosa High, texted her very upset because their classroom door wouldn’t lock. Lawson went to the school and walked to the administration building seeking help for her daughter’s classroom, but found all of those doors locked.

“I’m so upset, worried and concerned. Why is the administration building, all their doors locked and safe but some of the children’s classrooms, they’re not able to lock their doors?” Lawson said.

Working with school staff, and after learning the weapon was no longer on campus, officers were able to safely take the teen into custody, Cregan said. He declined to go into details about how the arrest was carried out, saying the department wanted to “be careful in not educating future shooters” about police tactics.

About 10:30 a.m. police officers walked one suspect from the Ridgway Avenue campus to a parked patrol SUV. The male, wearing all black clothing, smiled as he walked, according to witnesses. The suspect, arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, was loaded into the vehicle.

The lockdown of Ridgway and the adjacent Santa Rosa High School and Santa Rosa Junior College was lifted about 11:35 a.m. Classes resumed along the regular schedule, though some Ridgway parents pulled their children out of school for the day.

Staff Writers Austin Murphy and Chantelle Lee and News Researcher Janet Balicki Weber contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or

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