Emotional morning at Ridgway High School as shooting prompts lockdown of Santa Rosa campus

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Peering between the blinds of his classroom window Tuesday morning, Ridgway High School senior Dimarco Cassidy found himself looking down the barrel of a policeman’s rifle.

“It was like ‘Call Of Duty’ or something,” said his classmate, Eshon Hill, referring to the popular war-themed video game series.

As Ridgway Principal Valerie Jordan stressed to students on the school’s public address system shortly after 9 a.m., this lockdown was not a drill.

Outside, Brandon and Jessica Bayer stood holding each other on the south side of Ridgway Street, mere feet from the spot where a 16-year-old boy had been shot an hour earlier by a classmate outside their Santa Rosa continuation high school.

The shots rang out just before 9 a.m. Soon after, the Bayers got a text from their son, Andrew, a senior who shared with them that three police officers had just burst into his Ridgway High classroom brandishing AR-15 weapons.

“My kid said he almost had a heart attack,” Brandon Bayer said.

It would be another hour and a half before police arrested the suspected shooter, a 17-year-old boy who had allegedly fired the shots, then placed the handgun in a backpack that he handed to someone before heading to class. The teenager was arrested in a locked classroom hours later. Police are still searching for the unknown person who drove away from the high school campus with the backpack.

It wasn’t until 11:35 a.m. when the lockdown was lifted at Ridgway and at adjacent Santa Rosa High School and Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Bayers said they were ready to pull Andrew out of Ridgway, where they noted a student “got jumped” right in front of him a few months ago.

Standing nearby, listening to some parents describe Ridgway as “a school for bad kids,” whose student body of about 250 includes gang members, Rafael Rosales had a slightly different take.

“It’s pretty chill,” said Rosales, a senior who arrived at school moments before the shooting, which he witnessed.

Rosales and his friend and fellow senior, Andres Farias, were walking east on Ridgway Street when they heard two gunshots at close range.

“I looked up, I see a guy by the fire hydrant,” said Farias, who then saw the suspect run north onto Ridgway’s campus. “He was wearing all black. I couldn’t see his face because I need my glasses. I was mostly in shock. I didn’t know if this was real or not.”

Shock combined with déjà vu for many of the 60 or so parents who flocked to an impromptu parent information center set up at the Jockey Club at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

Barely five months earlier, on the last day of school, a Santa Rosa High School student brandished a replica gun, prompting a lockdown across the same three schools and forcing hundreds of parents into the same frozen terror.

“It just seems to be getting worse and worse,” said Sebastopol resident Alana Walker, whose 16-year-old daughter attends Santa Rosa High’s ArtQuest program and lay on the floor of the dance studio for the duration of the 2.5-hour lockdown Tuesday. “I just never thought it was going to get so close to home.”

For some Ridgway High students, the most traumatic aspect of the morning was the sight of police SWAT team members wearing bullet-proof vests entering their classrooms with guns drawn.

“They came into the class and told us to take off our hoodies,” Cassidy said.

One student “was just chillin’ on his phone,” said Ridgway senior Steven Ortega, “and the cop said, ‘Get off your phone!’ And he got off that phone instantly.”

One mother of a Ridgway student said: “A lot of the kids don’t want to talk to a reporter because this could be gang-related. They don’t want to be part of it. They don’t want any problems with anybody.”

Parents were allowed to sign their sons and daughters out of school, and many intended to do that as the all-clear was announced.

They included Sylvia Herrera, whose son spent the lockdown hiding in a classroom at Ridgway, where he’s taking classes on parenting and child care. He and his girlfriend are expecting a baby.

His girlfriend, who recently stopped going to school because of her approaching due date, luckily wasn’t on campus Tuesday.

As the lockdown was lifted, a wide-eyed Herrera shared that she was taking her son to the hospital to be with his girlfriend.

“Her water broke,” she said.

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