School shooting that injured four students now believed unintentional, police say; 12-year-old girl is booked
Ruben Vives, Sonali Kohli, Brittny Mejia and Howard Blume
Reporter for the Los Angeles Times
A 12-year-old girl was booked on suspicion of negligent discharge of a firearm Thursday after a shooting at Sal Castro Middle School left four students injured, authorities said.
Los Angeles police do not believe that the shooting was intentional, spokesman Josh Rubenstein said Thursday evening.
"At this time, the information suggests that this was an isolated incident, involving the negligent discharge of a firearm, where innocent children and a staff member were unfortunately injured," the LAPD said in a statement.
The girl was taken to Los Angeles County's Central Juvenile Hall.
The gunfire erupted in a classroom at the school in the Westlake neighborhood shortly after the opening bell and caused numerous students to run from the area, according to Los Angeles police Officer Drake Madison.
A semiautomatic handgun was recovered from the scene.
At least one student who was in the classroom told a reporter he thought the gunfire was unintentional.
Parents and nearby residents offered mixed views about campus safety. Some said bullying was an issue at Sal Castro, while others said gangs in the neighborhood are more of a concern. One mother said she wanted more security at the school.
Sabrina Colon, 12, was in her seventh-grade math class when she heard a muffled bang from the class next door.
"I stayed quiet and then we started seeing students run," she said.
The kids said a student had been shot. Sabrina's teacher ran out to help.
"They were saying, 'Help, my friend's vein popped, there's blood all over,' " said Sean Contreras, another student in Sabrina's classroom.
Around the same time, Ruth Saenz's cellphone buzzed with a series of strange texts from her daughter.
"Mom I'm scared," the first one said. "This girls vein popped."
Saenz asked her daughter if someone was calling 911.
She then called the school, but no one answered. When she saw the news on TV, she left work to pick up her daughter.
Alexandria Colon, Sabrina's 13-year-old sister, was walking to the counselor's office Thursday morning when she saw him running toward her.
"Did you hear that?" she said he asked.
"He pushed me and other students into a classroom," she said. "I was really scared. I didn't know what was going on."
She said the school doesn't have major problems with bullying or gangs, like Belmont High School across the street.
"I don't think it had to do with bullying," Sabrina said.
Sabrina said sometimes authorities will check backpacks or conduct pat-downs.
"They do it every once in a while," she said. "They need to do it more often."
In a morning news conference, Los Angeles School Police Chief Steve Zipperman said he did not know how a young person got access to a gun and brought it to campus, but warned gun owners to keep their weapons secure and away from children.
"Los Angeles has a law about the safe storage of weapons," L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer added. "Every responsible gun owner needs to take heed."
Throughout the morning and early afternoon Thursday, scores of parents anxiously awaited word on their children.
Tyresha McNair got to the school Thursday morning with her young niece. She had seen news of the shooting on TV and came to get her daughter, who is a student at the middle school.
"I saw it on the news and I came here to get my baby," she said.
At the front gate of the school, McNair said she was directed to the back, which was blocked off. She said she had been texting her daughter, but hadn't heard back.
"Any other time my baby would respond and she's not responding," McNair said. "I just want my daughter. I want my daughter."
It was sometime after 9 a.m. when Rosario Hernandez, 41, got a phone call from her 16-year-son, Jimmy Romero, telling her a shooting had occurred at his brother's school. Jimmy attends Belmont High School, which is across the street.
Hernandez left work and sped to the school campus.
She texted her 14-year-old son, Johnny Romero, whose number was listed under "Johnny baby," and asked him if was OK.
When he finally responded, he told her they were still on lockdown and said the shooting had happened inside a seventh-grade classroom.
"She shot a girl and a boy," he wrote.
"OMG," Hernandez responded. "But why mijo."
"I don't know. Mom go home, I will tell you when we are not in lockdown."
Hernandez said there are problems at the school, including bullying and gangs. She sat waiting with worried parents at a baseball field.
Nearby, Laura Gonzalez waited to get information from police and school district officials.
"I'm worried and I want her to be released already. We want to take our children home," Gonzalez said. "I didn't think something like this would happen here."
Gonzalez said the area around the school can be dangerous at times.
"There's a lot of gangs around the school and you do see them," she said. "You see them fighting sometimes."
Laya Esteban found out about the shooting from a call that went out to parents, and came from her home half a mile away. Her 11-year-old daughter, a sixth-grade student, doesn't have a cellphone, but school officials said she's safe, Esteban said.
Two of her children attended Sal Castro and did not experience any violence, so she's always felt the school was safe.
"Now I don't know," she said."The only thing I want now is to have my daughter and say how much I love her."
Castro Middle School is located in a building across the street from the main Belmont High School campus. The middle school building used to be part of Belmont High when the high school had a higher enrollment.
Zipperman said on KNX-AM (1070) that the school takes part in the district's safety plan, which includes random searches of students for weapons and other contraband.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is the only district its size that requires every middle- and high-school campus to conduct daily random searches for weapons using metal-detecting wands.
However, an internal district audit of 20 schools released in April found inconsistencies in how random searches were conducted. Some schools failed to do the searches daily, the audit found. One-fourth lacked enough metal-detecting wands to search properly.
The district started random searches in 1993 after a 16-year-old was shot and killed at Fairfax High School. A month later, a student died from a shooting at Reseda High School.
The district began requiring the daily searches with metal-detecting wands in 2011 after two students were injured in a shooting at Gardena High School, district officials said.
At an informal presentation in January of good-attendance certificates, Principal Erick Mitchell said his campus was becoming a destination for families who wanted a smaller school setting. Last year, Castro Middle had an enrollment of 355 students.
The enrollment is 92% Latino, and most students are from low-income families.
Mitchell added that the school has made academic strides because more students are coming in better prepared from elementary school and because the school has emphasized long-term goals such as college and career.
This focus also has improved overall student behavior, he said.
"We have a new culture here," Mitchell said. "I love this school. We have really good kids here. It's the best-kept secret in town."
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