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Gunn High student who made alleged school shooting threat taken into custody

Police believe teen's comments, left on Instagram, were unfounded

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 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 or

Available mental health resources:

• Text anything to 741741, the Crisis Text Line (, 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 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.


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12 people like this
Posted by Bill Bailey
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 30, 2019 at 8:27 am

[Post removed.]

38 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 30, 2019 at 8:31 am

These days, we cannot be too cautious about gun threats. I hope that parents are teaching their kids to report any kinds of gun threats that they hear about, no matter how questionable. You can send anonymous tips to the police by text message or email, though calling 911 might be a better idea if there is imminent danger. Web Link

19 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2019 at 8:32 am

I see this as a cry for help from a student struggling to cope with high school life. Since this was posted on PAPD Instagram rather than anywhere else and there were no weapons found in his home, it sounds like it was an empty threat that was a call for help.

Going back to school in the middle of August, seeing and knowing the pressures of high school, and possibly feeling helpless to cope in this stressful environment the student made a call for help in the only way that would get noticed.

[Portion removed.]

I hope the student gets the help needed, but more than that I hope the family and also the schools understand that putting all these pressures on teens without helping to solve the underlying stress that they are feeling, is going to cause incidents of self harm or group harm.

Thanks to PAPD, but please school communities, please families, learn from this.

19 people like this
Posted by Theresa
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 30, 2019 at 9:00 am

Here’s my guess, having worked with high school students as a coach and referee for the last 20 years: This kid loaned a friend or sibling his/her (most likely his) phone, and the so-called friend played a prank by writing this post on Instagram. I doubt anyone, even a high school freshman, is stupid enough to post a threat on the police departments’ page!

27 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 30, 2019 at 9:08 am

Please do not over publicize this; It is a non-event but can have repercussions. It was not necessary to put it on Facebook.

25 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 30, 2019 at 9:10 am

[Post removed.]

29 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2019 at 9:15 am

I strongly disagree with Gunn Parent above.

To begin with, the students probably know a lot more about this including the identity of the student in question. They do not need to read about it on PAPD social media or even the Weekly. They know about it because news likes this travels fast on their own sm of choice.

It is important that parents and the community know that this is happening. An email to Gunn parents that perhaps they do not see until after work this evening is not going to inform parents of students from other schools, and I suspect Paly as well as MV and Menlo/Atherton students are also talking about it.

Putting it on reliable sources is important so that we know the facts not the rumors. Hiding such news would be a disservice to the community. After all, what happens in one high school affects everyone in our community and wider due to the distances teachers travel to school.

If this is handled well, it sends the message that doing something as a prank has repercussions and doing it as a call for help may produce results not originally expected. It should be treated as a learning lesson for us all.

12 people like this
Posted by blocked
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2019 at 9:48 am

[Post removed.]

26 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 30, 2019 at 11:03 am

Samuel L. is a registered user.

It seems a bit naive for the police to say that the threats were unfounded simply because no weapons were found at the student's home.

10 people like this
Posted by Penalize the Family
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 30, 2019 at 11:36 am

Penalize the Family is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

15 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 30, 2019 at 11:47 am

Jonathan Brown is a registered user.

Thank you, Palo Alto Police, for acting swiftly! Perhaps this was just a case of really poor judgment (I personally do not have all the information, and certainly less than the police have). But each situation is different. I saw a lot of compassion for our young people on display last evening at Gunn Back To School Night. The closer we can stay as a community and the more we can look out for the health and long-term well-being of each other, the better chance we'll have of staying safe and leading the most productive lives possible. We can all do our part in leading by example.

6 people like this
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2019 at 11:52 am

Please talk to your middle/high schoolers and see how they are doing everyday. Even though it's hard, they want to ignore parents most of the times. Encourage them to participate in school clubs & sports.

7 people like this
Posted by retired guy who follows the schools
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 30, 2019 at 12:39 pm

I hope care is taken in the placing of the cameras on campus. I hope no cameras are placed in the classroom. With their heightened sensitivity to cameras these days, this would only put a damper on expression in class, and would violate kids' sense of the classroom as a safe space where their behavior is not reviewable by their parents. Classrooms are quite secure, in the way they need to be, without the addition of cameras.
Thanks to the police and the school for handling this one situation so deftly.

14 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 30, 2019 at 1:04 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

This should also be a lesson to the 2nd Amendment fanatics who claim that gun ownership is absolute, untouchable, and that the government cannot regulate it. The 1st Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, yet someone making school shooting threats, even if they don't carry out the threats, is not immune from police intervention and serious potential consequences. No Constitutional right is, or can be absolute when the public is at risk.

The police seem to have done exactly what they were supposed to do with great speed and efficiency, and deserve to be thanked by all residents.

17 people like this
Posted by Gunn Alumni
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 30, 2019 at 1:31 pm

The fact that this is being publicized in a community that has a strong history of copy-cat behavior, even when it comes to endangering students' lives, is heartless. The school district isn't going to send out an email that the parents will check later - they are going to do everything in their power to protect these children. The publication of this information is, quite frankly, appalling, given how much we know about the effect of any kind of attention in these situations. You can talk all you want about freedom of press; the publication of this article and its presence on facebook and other frequently populated media platforms is heartlessness and lack of respect for the nuance and context of this community's culture. I am incredibly disappointed in Palo Alto Online, Mercury News, and other local channels that are choosing to circulate this story.

13 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Aug 30, 2019 at 1:54 pm

Sarah1000 is a registered user.

@PenalizetheFamily I doubt the parents of this child “saw this coming”. I imagine that they are stunned by their child’s actions. Most mass shooters have histories of social isolation. What a great opportunity we have to come together to support this family and learn how early intervention can change outcomes.

6 people like this
Posted by
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 30, 2019 at 3:58 pm

[Post removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by 80's Baby
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 30, 2019 at 4:12 pm


14 people like this
Posted by Nicole
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 30, 2019 at 5:44 pm

[Portion removed.] We need to do better looking out for what going on and stop thinking that this city is perfect because it not. We need to go back to old school values were people care for one another. I am prayer for that family and there son and hoping he and his family can get help for him.

6 people like this
Posted by Expect retaliation
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 31, 2019 at 11:05 am

[Post removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Old News
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 31, 2019 at 3:02 pm

Old News is a registered user.

I am glad these student found another way to give us sign of his social emotional state. It is a lot better than going to the train tracks. PAUSD are under a lot of stress, specially not the high schools are getting so crowded. We should had added one more ten years ago instead of all the fancies addition and remodeling.

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