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California

AR-15 rifle found, student arrested after threat to South L.A. school, sheriff says

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference that the weapon found in the home of a student from Ánimo Mae Jemison Charter Middle School is unregistered but does have a serial number.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A 13-year-old student and an adult family member were arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats against a South Los Angeles middle school, and an AR-15 rifle and a list of targeted students and staff members were seized at the boy’s home, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials announced Friday.

The threat was made against Ánimo Mae Jemison Charter Middle School in Willowbrook, an independent charter school where the Los Angeles School Police Department does not have a presence, officials said.

“We want to thank everyone involved because they all did the right thing,” L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. “Because of that, we were able to prevent a possible tragedy today.”

On Thursday, students told staffers at the school that a classmate had threatened to shoot them the next day. Warrant in hand, sheriff’s deputies searched the boy’s South L.A. home.

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Deputies found the semiautomatic rifle with a high-capacity magazine, 100 rounds of ammunition, a list of the names of potential targets and a “rudimentary hand-drawn map” of the school, Villanueva said.

Sheriff’s Department officials declined to name the adult male relative who was arrested along with the boy. They described him as a family member who is not the boy’s parent. He will appear in court Tuesday and will probably face “a myriad of weapons-related charges” in addition to the criminal threats charge, Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Boese said.

The rifle seized from the boy’s home was unregistered but did have a serial number, Villanueva said.

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“We’re trying to determine the origin of it,” he said.

Earlier reports that the weapon was a “ghost gun,” assembled from parts purchased online and lacking a serial number, were inaccurate.

The threat and discovery of a weapon and ammunition comes just one week after a 16-year-old boy drew a handgun from his backpack and opened fire on the quad of Saugus High School, killing two classmates and injuring three others before fatally shooting himself.

Between the time of that shooting and Thursday’s threat in Willowbrook, sheriff’s deputies investigated 36 school-related threats, Boese said. All but the Willowbrook threat and another incident Thursday at a Palmdale school were deemed not credible, Boese said.

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Ánimo Mae Jemison Charter Middle School in Willowbrook
A threat was made against Ánimo Mae Jemison Charter Middle School in Willowbrook.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A student at Knight High School in Palmdale was arrested Thursday after making threats on social media, Villanueva said. The teen was among a group of students who’d been suspended after a fight on campus. He later posted threats and pictures of a person holding a firearm on social media, Villanueva said.

The boy acknowledged making the threats but said he wasn’t the person depicted holding a weapon in the photos, Villanueva said. No weapons were recovered. The boy was arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats and taken to juvenile hall in Sylmar, he said.

The Palmdale and Willowbrook threats are “totally separate,” Villanueva said. Neither suspect will be identified because they are juveniles.

Green Dot Public Schools, he charter organization that operates Ánimo Mae Jemison, said in a statement that students notified school staff Thursday of the threat and that the staff “moved quickly to ensure that no harm came to our students.”

“Our students did everything right by raising concerns with adults,” the statement said.

Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which authorizes the charter school, said Thursday’s threat and the shooting at Saugus “have understandably created anxiety and concerns regarding school safety.” He said the district would work closely with the Sheriff’s Department and other agencies to continue investigating the threat at Ánimo Mae Jemison and to keep campuses safe in the future.

“We all have a responsibility to keep students and all who work in our schools safe, and we are grateful to those who spoke up,” he said.

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On Friday morning, police increased patrols around Charter Oak High School in Covina after a threat to the school.

In Visalia, a Redwood High School student was arrested Thursday on suspicion of threatening to shoot a classmate, the Visalia Times-Delta reported. Police found the threat was not credible, and classes were held Friday.


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