Lockdown at Santa Rosa school gym ends peacefully after unfounded gun scare
As many as 1,000 people were confined in the gym at Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa on Thursday night after a 10-year-old boy saw someone on campus with a bulge in the side of his pants that the child thought could be a handgun, organizers and authorities said.
It ended up being a false alarm that interrupted championship play at this year’s 30th annual Nifty Niners elementary boys basketball league tournament.
A small company of police officers searched the southwest Santa Rosa campus where the contest was held and found no one and nothing that concerned them, and the game resumed within about 30 minutes, organizers said. The lockdown was lifted a short time later during the awards ceremony.
It was another scare in a region and nation made skittish by the now regular spate of school shootings — the latest one in Florida last month, followed by an outbreak of violent threats found scribbled on Sonoma County campus walls.
Given the stakes for deadly violence, no one was taking chances Thursday. Both police and school officials praised the unidentified Bellevue Elementary School athlete who first sounded the alert. They commended the crowd for keeping its cool, as well.
“I”m sure people were concerned, of course,” Elsie Allen principal Mary Gail Stablein said Friday. “We’re living in those kinds of times.”
The final game was underway between two teams of fourth-through-sixth-graders representing Bennett Valley’s Strawberry Elementary School when the game was stopped with about 2.5 minutes on the clock.
The gym was full, though only the two teams were still playing. Between 800 and 1,000 people were present watching the game and awaiting the awards ceremony that was to follow several days of play between teams from 19 schools, organizers said.
Dozens of kids were playing and hanging outside the gym, as well, said campus Athletic Director Manny DeLaO.
One of them observed an older teenager or maybe a young adult with a bulge in the side of his pants that concerned him, and he said as much to a 10th-grade girl who was staffing the concession stand outside the gym, DeLaO said. She told the athletic director, and he asked her to bring the kid to him.
After talking with him, he instructed the 70 or so kids outside the gym to go inside, and he and other school and league officials locked the doors and instructed everyone to stay put. League officials also stood guard at the doors, while up to eight police officers arrived and began searching the grounds.
“Honestly, I was 99 percent sure it was nothing,” DeLaO said Friday. “But with the way things have been going nationally, I wasn’t taking any chances.”
Lobos varsity basketball coach Mark Anderson, whose team benefits from the fundraising tournament, got on the microphone and informed those present that a situation required them to suspend play. He eventually advised them that police were on the way because of reports of a possible firearm on campus. There was an effort to provide enough information to explain the situation without causing panic, DeLaO said.
The 10-year-old was very nervous and distraught, not quite knowing what he had seen and seeing so many police come out as a result, school officials said.
“It was just kind of like, ‘I think it looked, it might have been,’” said Strawberry principal Josh Wilson, who saw the boy interviewed. “I was very proud that he erred on the side of caution.”
Some in the crowd were naturally unnerved, but overall those present described what Riebli Elementary School teacher and coach Andrea Farrell called a “pretty calm” scene.
“It looked more like it does during the brief half-time — people talking, kids shooting baskets, etc.,” Bennett Valley Union School District Superintendent Sue Field said via email on Friday.
About a half-hour into the lockdown, the game resumed, with Team Red from Strawberry Elementary pulling out a 37-to-30 victory over Team White. Police gave the official all-clear moments later.
A couple of patrol officers stayed on campus afterward, just to assure the players and their parents they could return to their cars safely.
“We all have to just be really diligent in these times,” Stablein said, “and then I think everybody’s sensitivity is up, too, and we all need to take care of each other.”
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or email@example.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.