Hollywood High School shooting hoax ‘still traumatizing’ for students and parents
After the principal announced Hollywood High School was going on lockdown Tuesday morning, Jaila Counts and her 20 ballet classmates ran to a closet, where they sat cramped for the next hour, crying silently.
Jaila called her mother, Jillian Counts-Odusanya, who tried to call the school for answers, but no one picked up. So Counts-Odusanya got a ride to the school, which she found surrounded by yellow crime scene tape and a flurry of Los Angeles Police Department cruisers.
The lockdown and huge police response, authorities later said, stemmed from a hoax 911 call.
Los Angeles school police had received a report from the LAPD at 9:43 a.m. of an active shooter and six victims down, said Lt. Nina Buranasombati, a school police spokesperson.
Officers entered the campus with guns drawn, searching for any victims or suspects.
The shooter approached Javier Mejia and Winfield Lee and opened fire Sunday while the 17-year-olds were attending the carnival on the 2700 block of North Broadway, according to authorities.
But school staff, instead of pointing the police toward an emergency, met officers with puzzled looks.
“They just kind of looked at us like, ‘What’s going on?’” Buranasombati said.
Officers asked to search a specific classroom, Buranasombati said, but the classroom number they had been given by the 911 caller didn’t exist.
Teachers in each classroom messaged school officials that their students were safe and accounted for, and before lunch, the Los Angeles Unified School District had deemed the incident a hoax.
“Non-credible school hoaxes are a serious offense that Los Angeles Unified takes seriously,” schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho said in a statement. “Threats disrupt the educational environment, increase stress levels, and interfere with law enforcement’s ability to protect schools from real dangers.”
St. Vincent High School in Petaluma cancels classes after police learned about a social media post sent to students that referred to a shooting.
Even after Jaila and her classmates learned the incident was a hoax, the junior said she couldn’t imagine resuming class as normal.
“Why would we go back there after that traumatizing experience? I want to go home,” she said. “Even if it’s real or fake, that’s still traumatizing.”
“I’m happy it is fake, but at the same time these kids are still scared,” said Counts-Odusanya, Jaila’s mother, while leaving the campus.
Jessica Gomez and Dulce Lupercio said they rushed over from work when they received messages from their ninth-grade sons about the school lockdown.
Immediately, Gomez said, she thought of the May school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two adults.
Though police said it was a false alarm, Lupercio and Gomez said there was a lack of communication to parents who had shown up looking for answers.
“Where are they when they’re at least supposed to communicate what’s going on?” Gomez said.
Lupercio was frustrated police were calling the incident a hoax, because her son and classmates had heard gunshots, she said. Police had not received any reports of gunshots, Buranasombati said.
During a school lockdown, you see the fear in your students’ eyes and you feel the fear in your own eyes even as you try to remain calm.
The school had experienced lockdowns before, since it is located at a busy intersection, exposing it to police incidents off campus.
“Even though this happens all the time … [that] doesn’t mean it gets less scary every time this does happen,” said Ashley Castillo, a senior. “You don’t know what’s going to happen for the rest of the day.”
By 11:48 a.m., the yellow crime scene tape had come down and the police cars had left. Parents were still heading toward the school and leaving with their kids.
Some students were allowed outside as they hung out, kicking around a soccer ball.
Ashley stayed at school for the rest of the day.
“Just trying to have the rest of what you call a ‘normal day,’” she said.
Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.
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