Palo Alto police took into custody on Thursday evening a 14-year-old Gunn High School student who allegedly threatened a school shooting in a social media post.
Following an investigation, police said they believe the student's comments were unfounded.
Around 6 p.m. on Thursday, police noticed comments on the police department's Instagram page, posted by a user with a profile that had no identifying information on it, stating that the person was going to "shoot up" Gunn. Detectives and school resource officers worked to identify the commenter and by 8:40 p.m. contacted the student at home in Palo Alto and took the student into custody for a mental health evaluation, according to a news release issued early Friday.
Police Sgt. Craig Lee said that the student was not arrested but was placed on a 5150 hold, an involuntary 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization for people who are believed to be a danger to themselves or others. The student's gender has not been identified.
Police searched the student's home and did not find any weapons. They believe that "the student had no real intent to carry out a shooting," the release states, but will send the case to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and Juvenile Probation Department for review for criminal charges.
"Unfounded threats such as this one are not only criminal in nature, but can also create a great deal of stress and anxiety for students, parents, school staff, and the community in general," police said. "As always, we encourage anyone who sees something suspicious, be it in person or online, to promptly report it to their local law enforcement agency."
Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks said police notified district staff on Thursday and worked with them throughout the investigation.
"The incident was handled very quickly and collaboratively between the Palo Alto Police Department and the Palo Alto Unified School District," she told the Weekly Friday morning. "We were all set to go into the school day today knowing the situation had been resolved and everybody was safe to come to school."
Gunn Principal Kathie Laurence notified students families in a message early Friday morning before school started, writing that "we continue to work on building a positive school culture at Gunn as we know that it has a direct relationship on wellness and safety."
A school resource officer, the district's interim safety manager and extra counseling staff will be at Gunn on Friday, and all teachers and staff will be "extra attentive to concerns or needs," Hendricks said.
The district's other school resource officer will be at Palo Alto High School on Friday.
Improving school safety is a high-level focus of the district's this year, with plans to add cameras and make other changes to secure campuses against active shooters and other emergencies. The Board of Education approved on Tuesday funding for two new district positions to oversee and implement security and emergency response procedures across all schools.
This week's incident "exemplifies why we have put very designated focus into this topic," Hendricks said. "We want to be prepared. We want to have our partnerships in place with law enforcement and community agencies. We want our sites and district to be fully repaired to receive information ... and respond in the best possible manner."
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent by text message or voicemail 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.
Available mental health resources:
• Text anything to 741741, the Crisis Text Line (crisistextline.org), to start a conversation with a trained crisis volunteer.
• Bay Area Clinical Associates serves youth through age 25, takes insurance, and has offices in San Jose, San Mateo and Oakland. Fill out the online appointment request form at baca.org and someone will contact you within 48 hours.
• Palo Alto nonprofit Children's Health Council serves youth up to age 17 and offers free 30-minute care consultations: 650-688-3625; Español, 650-688-3650.