Commentary: Estancia incident could have ended in tragedy

According to reports, on Feb. 15, the father of an Estancia High School student went to the administration office and asked to take his daughter off campus.

A check of school records determined there was a restraining order in place prohibiting the father from taking his daughter from the campus, so he was refused permission to remove her.

The father became irate and told the staff he had a gun, and apparently produced what turned out to be a replica gun, which he pointed at Assistant Principal Mike Sciacca and, according to reports from the scene, then issued a death threat.

At that point, the staff jumped into action. Sciacca, not knowing if the gun was real or not, took the man down and, with the assistance of Principal Kirk Bauermeister, wrestled the gun from him. They held him down until Costa Mesa police officers arrived to take him into custody.

The process in place for such an event was immediately implemented, the school was locked down, and police were called. It seems to have gone off without a hitch, but certainly does leave some troubling questions.

The school resource officer assigned to Estancia High School — recently retired Jess Gilman, who has returned on a part-time basis — was not on campus at the time. He was on his way back from TeWinkle Intermediate School, where he also performs his duties as an SRO, when the disruption occurred. If he had been there and confronted the man with the gun, would he have been forced to shoot him? That scenario seems very likely because the gun, although described in various news accounts as a "BB gun" was a replica gun that looked exactly like the real thing. No one knew it was a replica until the incident was over and the man was restrained.

What if members of the staff had been armed with their own guns, as some in the community have recently called for in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., event? Would we have seen a shoot-out in the halls of the building, with bullets flying everywhere? It seems likely that might have been the case.

And how does one explain the bravery of Sciacca in this incident? Not knowing whether the gun was real, he placed his own life in potential jeopardy by wrestling the distraught man to the ground to protect the students and staff.

Kudos to Bauermeister, Sciacca and the entire staff, who handled the situation with bravery and professionalism. The parents of every child enrolled at Estancia should be comforted, knowing that effective procedures are in place for such an event, and that the staff is well-trained to implement them.

GEOFF WEST publishes a local blog, A Bubbling Cauldron. He lives in Costa Mesa.

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