News


Police: Threat against Palo Alto High was a hoax

School, district office were on lockdown for more than an hour

A heavy police presence was visible outside Palo Alto High School on March 29, 2018, as officers investigated a threat called into the police department. Photo by Veronica Weber.

A threat against Palo Alto High School that led to a lockdown at the school and the nearby district office Thursday afternoon was a hoax, according to police.

Police are looking for whoever called in the threat, which investigators have determined was made from a cellphone that went missing or was stolen earlier in the day at Town & Country Village shopping center.

The police dispatch center took two 911 calls at 12:31 from a cellphone from a male who identified himself by first and last name, according to police.

The caller, whose name police did not release, claimed he was going to "shoot up" the school in 15 minutes, police stated in a press release.

The high school at 50 Embarcadero Road and neighboring district office at 25 Churchill Ave. were placed on lockdown as a precaution, police said. Students were told via the school's public-address system to go into a classroom immediately.

As police investigated the calls, they found that the name provided by the caller matched that of a current student at the school, according to police. When officers tracked down the student in a classroom under lockdown, they learned he was not involved in the incident and his cellphone number didn't match the one used by the caller who made the threat. Officers also searched his property and found no contraband.

Investigators later determined that an adult with no ties to the school owned the cellphone from which the threatening calls had been made. The cellphone owner no longer had the device, which had either been lost or stolen earlier in the day at Town and Country Village shopping center, which is across the street from Paly, police said.

The owner of the cellphone from which the threat had been called in contacted their carrier to deactivate the device once they realized it went missing, police said. As a result, whoever had the phone was able to call 911 from the device, but incoming calls from officers looking to speak with the caller didn't go through.

After police moved throughout the campus with students, teachers and staff under lockdown, they found no violence or anyone physically injured.

The lockdown ended around 2:15 p.m., when people were allowed to leave the campus but not allowed to enter, according to Ken Duecker, director of the city's Office of Emergency Services.

The school released students at the regular dismissal time of 3:25 p.m., interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks said.

Palo Alto officers planned to remain on the campus for the rest of the day, police said.

Detectives are following up on numerous leads from the school community. Police said they are working in close conjunction with school personnel as they continue to investigate.

Paly student Lia Salvaterria told the Weekly via text message during the lockdown that she heard a message over the school's PA system directing people "first to go to a classroom. Then they said it was lockdown."

During the lockdown, police officers and patrol cars were seen blocking entrances to the high school and district office.

Menlo Park and Mountain View police officers in addition to Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies working for the Stanford Department of Public Safety were also at the scene.

Dozens of parents gathered at Town & Country Village in front of the Trader Joe's after their children texted them about the lockdown. Many parents exchanged text messages with their children on the campus and some parents were near tears. A SWAT officer with a AR-15 rifle was seen standing in front of Trader Joe's.

"I can't believe this is happening," one worried mother said.

Parent Jamie Pearson, whose child is a sophomore at Paly, learned about the threat through a friend and was waiting outside the shopping center.

"We're living in different times now," she said. "I just feel sick and powerless."

Theresa Packard, whose daughter is a freshman at the school, found out about the threat through the police department's Nixle account.

"It's good to see such a quick response, but we just need the kids to be safe right now. You hear a lot of things, but you don't know how many people are in there and that's the scary part," Packard said.

Packard's daughter told her mother via text message that she had been in a dark classroom for more than an hour.

History teacher Steve Foug, who was also across the street from campus, said the school received a call that a lockdown was in place at 12:45 p.m. School protocol requires staff to immediately lock rooms and alert anyone off campus to stay away from the school.

Foug said the school has been preparing for such events for a decade and has been refining the protocol to make it as straightforward as possible.

Some Paly students were at Town & Country Village shopping center when the lockdown was ordered. A staff member from Palo Alto High School directed off-campus students to stay away and kept people away from the section of the shopping center parking lot directly across from Paly.

All Paly athletics events were canceled for the day, the school's Athletics Department said on Twitter.

Seniors Nicholas Lee and Cullen Tellez were returning to campus after lunch when they noticed two police cars at the school's back parking lot. The two were halfway into the campus when they realized the campus was closed down. A teacher told them there were threats of a shooter, and they decided to go away from the incident. They waited at Town & Country, they said.

"School is supposed to be a safe space," Lee said. "It's just ridiculous."

"You always see this on the news. We didn't think it could happen here, but yes, there is the possibility of it happening. It just really blows my mind," Tellez said.

"This really should stop," he added. "Enough is enough."

Paly junior Ashley Wang was in journalism class when the class received a message over the public-address system that the school was on lockdown and that it wasn't a drill. She said she felt a bit safer in the school's Media Arts Center than on the central part of campus. Her teacher kept the class calm by offering food, snacks and water. But students were panicky, she said.

"We were all texting our parents and other classmates to see if they were all OK," she said.

School officials made announcements over the address system with updates.

"It felt as if there was a shooter on campus, but there was a lot of confusion and a lot of panic," she said, adding that she still wasn't sure about what had happened.

In general, people on campus were scared, students said. Chesnie Cheung said her classroom barricaded the door with desks. Students were hugging their friends and texting others. Some were reportedly in other classes, Cheung said.

Senior Jackson Clough said at first he wasn't worried when the announcement came over the public address system. He thought it was a drill. But soon students were barricading the doors and pulling down the blinds. He said he felt safer because a teacher was there.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking," he said.

Texting was a good way for students to communicate because not much information had filtered through from the school about what was actually going on, Clough said.

"I just hope it doesn't become as common as fire alarms," he said, noting that about once a month someone sets off the alarm system as a way to get out of class. "I don't want this to happen more than once."

Lee and Tellez said they don't think armed teachers, a proposal President Donald Trump has supported, would help improve campus safety in the event of a shooting. There should be tighter background checks for gun purchases, they said.

Connections between students, teachers and staff are also important to help prevent any kind of violence or crisis, they said.

"We need more caring adults to just reach out," Lee said.

Wang said the incident is sure to spark needed discussion.

"It will move some to open conversations about gun control," she said.

Paly has procedures in place for drills and lockdowns, but there should be more discussion about how to prevent the need for these safeguards in the first place, she said.

Asked how he'll sleep Thursday night, Lee said, "I'll say a prayer, honestly. I'll thank God that everyone is safe, and that's all that really matters.

"I hope this ends soon. No one wants to see another shooting," he said.

Hendricks told the Weekly that that she intends to debrief with her staff and the police about the incident.

"Any time you (have) any kind of a crisis situation ... you want to go back and take a look at the incident and debrief what worked and what the learnings were," she said late Thursday afternoon.

In a message to the district community, she asked families to

make sure their contact and household information is accurate as part of an annual data update that started this week to ensure they will receive information during an emergency.

"The kids were safe, staff was safe and we appreciated the presence of the police department very much," Hendricks said.

Police stated that whoever is responsible for the hoax will face multiple criminal charges, as well as face civil liability to pay for the cost of the sizeable law-enforcement response.

"Hoax threats such as this are not only criminal in nature but they also create a great deal of stress and anxiety for students, parents, school staff and the community," police stated. The incident "took officers away from their other important duties and calls. Anyone found responsible for placing a hoax call like this will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Earlier this week, students at Cupertino High School were evacuated after the school received a "robotic call" threatening harm, according to a tweet from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. Students returned to campus after sheriff's deputies determined there was no indication of danger to the school or the neighborhood.

Anyone with information about Thursday's incident is asked to call the department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to paloalto@tipnow.org or sent by text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through the police's free mobile app, downloadable at bit.ly/PAPD-AppStore or bit.ly/PAPD-GooglePlay.

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Comments

7 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:12 pm

A similar incident happened at Cupertino High School on Tuesday. Wonder if these are coordinated terror attacks.


9 people like this
Posted by Also Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:16 pm

Could this incident and the Cupertino one be connect to the recent activism among teens on school shootings?


3 people like this
Posted by Alum 87
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:23 pm

Cupertino was a call to the school, this was to PAPD.
I hope some updates this with help and contact info.
Above all, let’s hope everybody is ok.
I wish the lockdown let some students leave instead of going to class when they are or were close to the exits.


1 person likes this
Posted by Another Paly student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:26 pm

Any info on the nature of the threat?


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:27 pm

For updates: www.twitter.com/PaloAltoPolice or paweekly.com. Lots of e-mail updates flowing from PAUSD admins.


Like this comment
Posted by a student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:30 pm

i am seriously worried right now we are under lockdown and i dont know if this was just someone threatning the school to terrify the students or a legitimate threat.


Like this comment
Posted by paly oarent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:34 pm

from student, sounds like papd is searching for the person w/ phone who called it in at paly. doing room to room search.


1 person likes this
Posted by Another Paly student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:36 pm

As of now it seems like there is no legitimate threat to the school. Police that have arrived will help if that is not the case.


4 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:39 pm

Palo Alto police posted this update 45 minutes ago:

Officers are investigating a threat of violence phoned into our Department just now directed at Palo Alto High School. Out of an abundance of caution, expect a heavy police presence in the area while we investigate. The school is on lockdown as a precaution.

"A student" -- There are a lot of officers there to help, so please try not to worry. The lockdown is a precaution to ensure student safety.


7 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:43 pm

[Post removed; determined to be inaccurate.]


30 people like this
Posted by samrock1500
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:55 pm

Paly Parent -- pls do not post unconfirmed reports unless you are the police or a reporter with confirmation -- you repeating these things only concern people.
If you know something is 100% true pls share -- otherwise stop!


Like this comment
Posted by Another Paly Student
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:55 pm

^can anyone else confirm the comment above?


1 person likes this
Posted by Another Paly student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:56 pm

Is the entire school being evacuated or only certain classrooms?


Like this comment
Posted by Paly student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Admin has not updated us in an hour. Noting better but nothing worse


Like this comment
Posted by Also Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 2:03 pm

[Post removed; determined to be inaccurate.]


Like this comment
Posted by Another paly student
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2018 at 2:06 pm

How could he have been framed? If so, why has the lockdown not been lifted yet?


6 people like this
Posted by Penny
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2018 at 2:10 pm

From the article “According to one parent, whose child had texted her, the threat was that an active shooter was on campus. This has not been confirmed by the police or the school district, however.“

Isn’t this statement just as much hearsay as the comment on the article about a students report to the mother, which received an “editors note”


Like this comment
Posted by YAPP
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 2:11 pm

The threat to the Palo Alto HS campus has been cleared by the PAPD. Afternoon dismissal will proceed as usual (3:25pm) - Paly Attendence


2 people like this
Posted by YAPP
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 2:17 pm

"Update and good news: Officers have determined that the phoned-in threat was likely a hoax." - PAPD Tweet


3 people like this
Posted by Lynn Ware
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 29, 2018 at 2:27 pm

So much for "It won't happen here."


8 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2018 at 2:32 pm

With the (fake) phoned-in threat to Cupertino High School, authorities on tv news said there have been a bunch of these nationwide - like nasty scammers who phone us in the general public all the time with scams.The government and utilities (cell and landline providers) need to get with it and crack down NOW on scamming and spoofing of legit phone numbers, too! This is a major thing and unacceptable. Very sorry to hear this likely affected Paly - hoping not anything worse, of course!


1 person likes this
Posted by Yet Another Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 3:11 pm

Eh... I'm glad this didn't turn into a school shooting. On the plus side, a bunch of tests and quizzes got canceled! (just a joke.)


1 person likes this
Posted by Yet Another Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 3:15 pm

From what's been going around, it seems like a student was framed. Someone called the police and claimed said student was going to shoot up the campus. Guy was taken out of his classroom, but was cleared later.


4 people like this
Posted by Paly Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 3:34 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Nick
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 29, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Lyne Ware: no one ever said "It won't happen here".


Like this comment
Posted by Also Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 4:03 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


2 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2018 at 4:07 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


Like this comment
Posted by Kathy Jordan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2018 at 4:09 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


9 people like this
Posted by Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 4:13 pm

Five minutes after the lock down announcement went over the speakers I could still see other students walking by the classroom door because:
1)They came from Town and Country or something like that after the announcement was made one time on the speakers
2)Some classrooms don't even have working emergency warning systems or announcement speakers


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2018 at 4:54 pm

The question now arises is what worked and what didn't work through this.

Were the right alerts sent out by text, email, to every teacher, every parent and to every student in the school? Were those students who may have been off campus for that period, or in a bathroom, or changing for PE, made aware of what to do?

In any practice drill which is scheduled, these are things which cannot be rehearsed.

These are questions that should be asked to prepare for the "next time".


20 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 29, 2018 at 4:54 pm

In exchanging texts with my daughter as she was scared and crouched in a corner in a classroom during the lockdown, I thought how crazy it is that the word "lockdown" is, for teens these days, as normal as saying recess. It makes me sad that they live in a world in which they have to go through horrifying experiences like this. In addition, I am shocked that the administration required the students to attend the last class period after the lockdown was lifted. These kids were given no break to process this scary event. I am not sure how that decision was made, but I feel it reinforces the feeling that this sort of thing is now normal.


9 people like this
Posted by Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 5:23 pm

I wish they had actual alarms instead of the going on the PA. I was walking to class see, and the first time it came on the surroundings too loud to hear and the second one came I was sprinting to class and almost locked out.


2 people like this
Posted by Another Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 5:27 pm

The issue also arrives in how can students be safe if when in hiding in class, one of the kids is actually the shooter.


Like this comment
Posted by Another Random Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 7:02 pm

I was coming back from T & C when a teacher told my friends and I to get back to where we came from. Glad we got such a quick response, but it was terrifying. I can only imagine how the students on campus must have felt. This is ridiculous though and it's actually scary to think about how school shootings are now almost common; something to be afraid of.


3 people like this
Posted by Concerned Grandma
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 29, 2018 at 8:22 pm

"A SWAT officer with a AR-15 rifle was seen standing in front of Trader Joe's."

Police armed with an assault rifle standing in front of a grocery store. This is frightening. The militarization of our community is alarming.

Of course the threat to students is horrifying, but we have here in the US a gun culture arming police with weapons and an overkill attitude. Witness recent shooting and killing of a young man holding a cell phone in his grandmother's back yard in Sacramento just days ago. 20 shots fired at him. He had no weapon.


14 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2018 at 8:56 pm

@paly parent

Why would students be asked to attend the last period of the day when minutes before they were in lockdown mode? When we deal with incidents like this, we normalize this type of violence, which should not be normalized. Kids should have been sent home.


10 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 29, 2018 at 9:56 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

We have an outstanding police force and excellent new police chief. However, they alone cannot react in time from off campus to stop a determined attacker.

Dishearteningly, there are very few things one can stand behind on a modern city block that will stop a bullet or fragmentation from an improvised explosive device.

Our campuses are terribly inadequate when it comes to creating a secure perimeter or safe spaces for shelter. Palo alto prides itself in being a world leader in many best practices. Why not in safe schools?

Fortunately, tactics, materials, technology and personnel are available today to harden and defend our school sites without turning them into fortresses. They can disrupt, delay and protect our children from an assault long enough to make all the difference. It just takes the right mindset.

In the event you agree, consider contacting the city council (city.council@cityofpaloalto.org) and school board (board@pausd.org) to let them know that rapid response by itself is not an effective strategy.

We should insist on the establishment of an upgraded defensive plan for each site that is robust, rehearsed, measured and audited.

If we can find facility money to change school names surely we can find the resources to improve the defensive capabilities of our schools and safeguard our kids. Let's make it a priority.


11 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 10:10 pm

@Concerned Grandma: Don't get me started. But you already did. Stephon Clark was running and hopping through yards in the dark. Someone reported that he broke window. Cops told him to show his hands, and they thought he had a gun, as heard on the body camera. The cops feared for their lives, thought they saw a gun. Do you know how difficult it is when you fear for your life? Web Link Why didn't Stephon just stand still and put up his hands as asked? He'd still be alive today. He knew they were after him, the helicopter was shining light on him. You can't blame the cops for this one, they are not superhuman; bullets can kill them. They thought the cell phone was a gun. The only reason no one is screaming racism is that the officer was also black. Otherwise, it'd be a whole different chant.

[Portion removed.]

Re Town & Country armed guards: Can't expect law enforcement to use a baton to stop a gunman with a machine gun.


10 people like this
Posted by PALY Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2018 at 10:12 pm

I was inside during the lockdown and at first it was scary and overwhelming because we didn’t know if it was real or not, but everyone knew what to do and my teacher stayed very calm and made sure we were all safe. I don’t know about the other rooms, but I felt secure after I learned what the situation was. Throughout the hour and a half that we were waiting, my teacher checked on us and improved the barricades. Some other comments are talking about how we are unprepared for something like this, but I disagree as most people who I talked to, including myself, felt safe after the initial confusion subsided.


29 people like this
Posted by GraceBrown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2018 at 10:18 pm

GraceBrown is a registered user.

@Paly Parent, @Observer

Most families allowed their students to leave campus. Parents who did not likely did so because they were not available to meet their students at home. Schools have a legal obligation to keep students safe during school hours - EVERY SINGLE TEACHER ON THE PALY CAMPUS DID SO DURING TODAY'S LOCKDOWN. "Hoax" or not, today Paly teachers ensured that Paly kids made it home safely.

More broadly, after the release from lockdown, without a parent at home, school is the safer place in these situations.

From what I understand, most/every teacher debriefed the experience with students who attended 7th period - useful for those students who were present - who are you to decide what students need / don't need?

Until you are both are willing to ride out two hours crouched on a classroom floor with 30 teens, checking the PAPD Twitter feed, Paly REMIND, SnapChat, and FB, I I respectfully suggest that you hold off on your indictment of PAUSD leadership.

GB


33 people like this
Posted by Rayme Waters
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 29, 2018 at 11:10 pm

I want to thank the PAPD and Paly for their preparedness and good communication during this lockdown. As always, there will be much second guessing by those who weren't there. However, I value your work and the stress that events like this add to the already hectic jobs of teaching and policing. There is no "right" answer for how to handle this, and I'm sure there will be lessons learned from today, but I feel a debt to the teachers, administrators and police who put their lives on the line to try and make sure my two girls, and all of their classmates at Paly, are safe. We were lucky it was only a hoax. I truly hope they catch the idiot who made the call.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 29, 2018 at 11:28 pm

^ and what, give him probation and mental health counseling?


4 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2018 at 1:26 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Sanctimonious City - secure perimeters and safe spaces aren't protection from a phone threat. At this point, a handful of terrorists with cell phones could shut down the country. This kind of extreme reaction to an anonymous phone call does more harm than good. There was a bigger chance of an accidental shooting than a real one.


32 people like this
Posted by Paly staff member
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 30, 2018 at 9:10 am

It was not a hoax to us! Students remained calm, quiet and helpful because they were prepared.


12 people like this
Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2018 at 9:53 am

A huge thank you to the staff members for keeping the students calm during this time. There were many rattled nerves in the classroom. The teachers went the extra mile to assure the kids.

While we all agree that this shouldn't have been necessary , this episode shouldn't even have occurred - its time to recognize the preparation that the school puts in to handle these events.


12 people like this
Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2018 at 9:58 am

@concernedgrandma - your comments may seem "justified" since this turned out to be a hoax. It could have been real .. then what ? I am glad the SWAT came out in full force and did no discount the threat. It was rattling for the students to see the SWAT guys ( they were peering through the classroom windows ) .. but if it was required, they were equipped.

Hope they catch the male who started all this. Hopefully the cell phone tracking technology / surveillance cameras aide the investigation in a speedy manner.


6 people like this
Posted by disheartened
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2018 at 1:20 pm

I'm extremely disheartened that the person responsible for this hoax is still at large. My heart goes out to the terrified parents that suffered so much that day and obviously there was a huge waste of resources utilized as well. It was my husband's phone that was stolen to place the threatening phone calls to Palo Alto High School. It was a very traumatic day for us as well with SWAT team members coming to check our house as well as my husband's place of work.


3 people like this
Posted by a student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 25, 2018 at 10:43 am

im glad it was a hoax and not real but whoever called in the hoax should be found and arrested.


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