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Schools responded quickly to wandering North Hollywood gunman

Schools immediately locked doors and allowed no one in or out after reports of a gunman
For Oakwood School, first a crosswalk tragedy, then a shooter on the loose nearby

Schools around North Hollywood reacted quickly Monday to secure campuses after learning a suspect armed with an assault rifle was in the area.

On Monday afternoon, officers took the man into custody after he gave himself up, exiting a house on Hartsook Street, near the secondary campus of the private Oakwood School.

Before the trouble began, middle schoolers were supposed to have been released at noon. Seniors were to have a graduation practice. Some students also were taking final exams. Then, the routine altered.

“The school has sent out an email that the kids are safe and the school is on lockdown,” said a parent, who asked not to be named.

The school already was dealing with trauma, after a car last week slammed into three students in a crosswalk. In that accident, a 14-year-old girl was on life support with serious head injuries, another suffered a dislocated hip and the third a broken arm, said a California Highway Patrol spokesman last week.

The school provided extra counseling and made the week’s final exams optional, said the parent.

Across the 170 Freeway, The Wesley School also took precautions on Monday.

“We have a security guard, and he goes around to check that the perimeter gates are secured and locked,” said head of school John Walter at about 1 p.m. “The kids are in the classrooms with the teachers. The doors are locked, and the blinds are pulled.”

If a child needs to use the bathroom, the teacher calls the office, which provides an escort, Walter said, reiterating that the perimeter of the school is entirely gated.

The school, in its last week of the semester, has 234 students. Dismissal was at 3 p.m.

“We’ve just been discussing how we’ll handle that,” Walter said at the time. “And we’re not sure yet.”

But by 2:15 p.m., police had narrowed their perimeter and lockdowns were lifted at the last four public schools affected: North Hollywood High as well as Colfax, Fair and Lankershim elementary schools. Earlier, Reed Middle School also had been locked down, as had Earhart High, a small alternative school.

None of the public schools was in session, but there was staff on these campuses. About 54 students had been at North Hollywood High picking up diplomas. About 80 students were in a camp program at Colfax.

Still in session was nearby Valley Torah High School.  It normally lets juniors and seniors leave campus for lunch. On Monday, they could not leave the classroom, said the school’s office manager, who would provide only her first name, Nancy. The school has about 110 students.

Oakwood parent Mark Fuller was standing behind police tape where media were gathered awaiting news of his son, an eighth-grader.

He'd been at work when his wife called to tell him about the gunman. He said his mind went immediately to the string of school shootings in the news recently, and his heart sank.

"The first thing when you hear that is you think some lunatic has gotten to where your kids are," he said.

He raced from his office in sun valley to the neighborhood. "My first thought was to get here as quickly as I could without causing an accident."

When he arrived, officers assured him it was not a school shooting, and that officers were stationed in the schools with the students.

"I'm going to stay here until the kids get let out," he said. He added: "This is the last week and he has a big project due."

Oakwood parents and students reunited early Monday afternoon. The students left the school, often holding hands in long chains, as officers escorted them in small groups. The students headed towards a park where family members were waiting. As the children appeared, some parents broke into applause.

The suspect had led police on a high-speed chase on several freeways Monday before jumping out of his car around 11:30 a.m. and running through the neighborhood off Magnolia Boulevard. 

He was seen walking through backyards, then standing on the roof of a home. 

The man was suspected of making what police described as "terrorist threats" against his former girlfriend several days earlier. Police responded to the woman's home Monday in El Sereno after he was spotted sitting outside.

There was an arrest warrant for the man, who was not identified, based on the earlier threat. Police tried to arrest him and that's when the chase began about 10:15 a.m. in the Boyle Heights area.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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