Santa Rosa High gun threat tests police, school district amid rise in deadly school shootings
Officer Matt Crosbie exchanged high-fives with ecstatic, soon-to-be graduates two weeks ago on Santa Rosa High School’s Nevers Field as they practiced the commencement ceremony planned for later that day.
But the rehearsal — Crosbie’s first since starting his assignment as a school resource officer last fall — was disrupted when his radio signaled an urgent message from the front desk: A student had been seen holding a gun in the school’s music building.
The campus and two neighboring schools were quickly placed on lockdown, prompting the largest-ever police response to a report of a gun at a Santa Rosa school.
“It shows you how quickly things can change,” said Crosbie, a 17-year veteran of the Santa Rosa Police Department. “We no longer wait to respond. We immediately go in and respond to the threat that’s occurring.”
Hours later, officers took the suspect, a 15-year-old student at the school, into custody and discovered the gun was a realistic-looking BB pistol. But in the harrowing moments at the start of the May 31 lockdown, before anyone knew the gun was not real, school district and police officials demonstrated how years of planning, the use of an on-site school resource officer and security upgrades bolstered their ability to respond to threats of violence.
The preparation mimics initiatives on campuses nationwide, where school shootings are becoming more common and failures by police, schools and teachers to protect students can lead to devastating results.
“It reinforces that we need to continue to train the school staff to always be prepared,” Sgt. Jeneane Kucker, who helps oversee the department’s School Resource Officer program, said of the incident. “It’s muscle memory for the brain.”
Students, parents, staff and administrators expressed fear, anxiety and stress during the nearly three-hour lockdown as officers searched for the student with a gun. In an era of mass shootings in the United States, some said they sat in fear of gunshots. Nevertheless, students knew what to do because of training and active shooter drills, officials said.
“It really wasn’t so much about that day, it’s about what we prepared for,” said Superintendent Diann Kitamura, who was at the Ridgway High School graduation ceremony that morning when Santa Rosa High went on lockdown.
Additionally, a new, multifaceted notification system had been installed at all 24 schools in the district over the last 18 months. It includes an LED display with a text warning message in English and Spanish, flashing lights, a message over the public address system and an alarm. It’s also used for daily school announcements.
“Any place you have a clock and an alarm, this goes in. This is a really key communication tool, especially for Spanish speakers and hearing challenged,” Kitamura said.
The notifications are activated through a school phone by punching in a security code, which eliminates the need for staff to be at the front office. During the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, the first gunshots on campus were through the windows of the front office and the principal was among the 26 killed.
“In this case — or any case — the notification system can be activated from any phone on campus,” said Rick Edson, assistant superintendent of business services. The system, which cost $2.4 million, was funded by two voter-approved bonds, Measures I and L, to improve school facilities and technology.