Suspect, 15, arrested hours after Santa Rosa High lockdown over report of armed student
A report of a male student with a gun at Santa Rosa High School prompted the lockdown of the campus and two neighboring schools Friday morning, upending the final day of classes for thousands of high school students ordered to seek shelter as heavily armed officers executed a room-by-room search for the teen.
The nearly three-hour lockdown, which began shortly before 11 a.m., ended without any gunfire and injuries after the 15-year-old suspect, a Santa Rosa High freshman from Sebastopol, was taken into custody in the nearby Junior College neighborhood.
He had been suspended from school a week ago but was on campus visiting a friend, Santa Rosa Police Capt. John Cregan said, adding he did not know the reason for the student’s suspension.
Police said they had no indication that the student had brought the weapon to campus to harm anyone.
“I think that’s the one thing to stress,” Cregan said. “There is no evidence whatsoever to show that he was there to commit any violence.”
But the incident brought an otherwise festive day at Santa Rosa’s flagship public high school to a troubling halt just hours before the commencement ceremony for 400 senior students. It also interrupted a graduation at adjacent Ridgway High and led officers to block access to neighboring Santa Rosa Junior College — putting the city’s largest collection of school campuses, about 170 acres just north of downtown, completely off limits.
Though Friday’s incident ended with no outbreak of violence, some of the affected students and parents described being overcome with anxiety and fear after learning about the potential threat on campus — a sentiment heightened by the wave of school shootings nationwide in recent years, they said.
“I was really scared,” said Leslie Mendez, 18, Santa Rosa High senior who was with classmates at graduation practice when the lockdown began. Teachers ushered the gathered seniors into the gymnasium for safety.
“I just kept telling myself that ‘This is not happening, this is just not happening,’” said Mendez.
The suspect, who was not identified because he is a minor, was stopped by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy on Beaver and Benton streets about four blocks east of the campus at 12:48 p.m., police Lt. Ryan Corcoran said. No gun was found on him, though he later told police he had disassembled a weapon and disposed of it at a nearby McDonald’s on Mendocino Avenue, where he had been spotted prior to his arrest, police said.
Surveillance video showed the suspect had visited the restaurant and a realistic-looking BB gun adorned with floral decals and an empty magazine was found by police in a garbage can in the restaurant’s men’s bathroom, Corcoran added.
The boy was subsequently arrested and transported to the Sonoma County Juvenile Justice Center on suspicion of felony possessing a weapon on school grounds.
A fellow student made the initial 10:41 a.m. report that triggered a response from law enforcement unlike any in the high school’s 145-year past. The witness told school staff he had seen another student at the school’s music building rack the slide of a handgun in his hands, police said.