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Lockdown lifted at West County High School in Sebastopol after unfounded reports of student with gun

Teachers at West County High School in Sebastopol locked classroom doors and students huddled under desks and in closets for more than an hour Thursday morning following unfounded reports of a student on campus with a gun.

Ultimately, there were no reports of injuries or violence, no threat to students and no concern of a “continued threat,” to the school, Sebastopol Police Chief Kevin Kilgore said.

The false alarm, the second report of a threat of violence at the school this week, shook parents and students.

At around 11:15 a.m. police received a report that school administrators had been informed of a gun on campus, officials said. The school administration subsequently initiated a lockdown.

Officials lifted the lockdown around 12:30 p.m. after the student who was reported to have a gun was detained and police did not find a firearm in his possession and released him, Kilgore said. The reports came from several students who told administrators they had heard the student had a gun on campus, he said.

Officials later clarified that nobody had reported seeing a gun.

In a message to parents sent just after noon, West County Union High School District officials said there was “no credible threat to staff or students,” according to copies of the message shared with The Press Democrat.

The unfounded call was the second alarm over potential violence at the school raised this week. The Sebastopol Police Department on Monday investigated a shooting threat that was made on social media, but Chief Kevin Kilgore said at the time that officials did not believe it to be credible. Officials do not believe the two incidents were related, they said.

Classes were to continue for the rest of the day, officials said, but parents who wished to were allowed to pick up their children from a student parking lot.

(Watch a Facebook Live news conference with authorities and school officials at bit.ly/3zZ7YPV.)

Just before 1 p.m, a swarm of parents waited for their children as school administrators scrambled to keep track of which students were leaving campus. A CHP officer directed traffic in and out of the student parking lot as it became jammed with cars.

“It’s in turmoil here,” Ana Maria Padilla said in a phone interview as she left the school with her daughter. At 11:21 a.m., Padilla said she received a series of nightmarish text messages from her 16-year-old daughter.

“Mommy there is a lockdown,” one text read. That message was followed by “there might be a shooting at the school” and then, “I’m scared.”

“I was a nervous wreck,” Padilla said. “I was stressed. I was scared. I was upset that I could not contact any of the staff members.” Unable to reach school staff, Padilla decided to drive to the campus and eventually was able to pick up her daughter.

Devin O’Brien, a senior, said he heard about the report of a gun on campus just before the lockdown was announced over the loudspeaker during his economics class. He forced himself to stay calm as his teacher locked the classroom doors and his classmates took cover under their desks, he said.

Caden Hansen, a junior, said he thought the lockdown was a drill when he heard it announced during his English class on the second floor of the school building.

An administrator ordered teachers to lock classroom doors but did not explain why, he said.

Hansen’s phone lit up with messages from friends, most sharing rumors about what was happening.

“It was a little bit freaky at first,” Hansen said.

On the west side of the campus, antsy parents waited on either side of North Main Road toward the lockdown’s end, swapping suspicions as they waited anxiously for students to exit the building.

“We have to worry about COVID, now this?” one said.

Others bemoaned the lack of direct communication from the school administration about the status and cause of the lockdown and the timing of the kids' release.

Monica Torres, for example, only learned about the lockdown through a text from her son, Santino Dougherty. Shortly afterward, she got an automated call from the school saying the same thing. She came to pick up her son, she said, after she couldn’t get in contact with any staff.

Just after 1 p.m., she spotted Dougherty among the throng of students streaming from the school building into the parking lot.

“I was in art class and a speaker came on and said there was a lockdown,” said Dougherty, 15, a sophomore.

As the crowd thinned out, officials noted students were welcome to stay and return to classes as the lockdown had lifted. Groups of students were seen reentering the building when the bell for the next period rang.

Sebastopol Police Department Lt. Ron Nelson said this week’s two threats are not totally unheard of.

“I suspect it’s kids being kids,” he said.

Police and school officials applauded their response to the incident, and thanked the students who had made the initial report. “It’s always important that student staff and faculty report things in a timely manner and our students did just that,” Kilgore said. “The school did the exact thing that they needed to do which was take all precautions.”

Shauna Ferdinandson, the school principal, said she was proud of the students “who chose to step up and go to trusted teachers and adults in order to let us know what we needed to know.”

Staff Writer Alana Minkler contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88.

Andrew Graham

City of Santa Rosa, The Press Democrat 

As Sonoma County's largest city, Santa Rosa, its policy and politics, crime and its economy affect the lives of North Bay residents both inside city limits and beyond in ways both obvious and unseen. I aim to document those impacts and give voice to city residents.

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