A man who police say robbed a Bank of America on Quarry Road on Monday led officers on a chase through Palo Alto High School before he was arrested off campus.
The incident sent some students into a panic, as campus security told them to either enter a classroom and lock the doors or to run across the street to Town & Country Village, according to Paly student news outlet The Paly Voice. A group of students gathered inside Trader Joe's, fearing there was an active shooter on campus. Though it was during the lunch period, some classrooms also went into lockdown, according to the Paly Voice. Rumors of a possible shooter spread quickly, sparking concern among parents.
The man, a 33-year-old Redwood City resident, allegedly walked into the bank at 395 Quarry Road shortly before noon. He was wearing a face mask, and he handed a teller a note demanding money, police said in a news release. The teller complied and handed over the cash, which the man put in his pockets, police said.
After the man took off on a bicycle, police searched for him in the area and found him at Paly inside the library. A Paly student who noticed him in the library called police; a dispatcher contacted officers who were already on campus just feet away, Austin said at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting. Officers chased him off campus and onto the bike path that runs parallel to the train tracks, according to police. Police said one officer sustained a moderate injury to the knee during the foot pursuit and was taken to Stanford Hospital by Palo Alto Fire Department paramedics.
The alleged robber was taken into custody at about 12:16 p.m. without incident, police said. They found cash from the bank inside his pants pocket, according to the news release.
Paly Principal Adam Paulson emailed parents shortly after 12:30 p.m. to assure them that all students were safe and that there was no danger on campus. Within about 10 minutes, he shared a message from Palo Alto police about the arrest. By Monday evening, Paulson sent a follow-up email offering support resources to students and tips for parents and teachers on talking to children about violence.
"Our administrative, counseling and wellness teams will be meeting over the next several days to ensure students and staff are fully supported," he wrote. "If your student was personally affected by today’s events, please contact your student’s grade-level counselor. Students are welcome to drop in to see their grade-level counselor or the wellness center for support at any time."
Superintendent Don Austin and Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks met with City Manager Ed Shikada, and Police Chief Robert Jonsen on Tuesday to review the incident -- in part, Austin told the Weekly, because he had received conflicting information about when police notified the Paly administration about their presence on campus.
Paly nor the district office was notified before police arrived "due to the very fast chain of events," Austin said. "It happened quickly. ... The timeline made perfect sense when laid out."
At Tuesday's board meeting, he said "the window in which they (police officers) were on our campus and needed to respond was measured in seconds."
A police officer notified Paulson by going to his office in person after arriving at Paly. Paly's school resource officer was not on campus on Monday, Austin said.
In a message to students and families on Tuesday evening, Austin thanked the police department and Paly staff for "handling a challenging and fluid situation well. Notifications immediately on the heels of an event will never contain complex details," he wrote. "As of today, we are still learning specifics and conducting 'after action' debriefings."
In a Tuesday letter to Austin, Jonsen said he's open to discussing "additional communications protocols or processes needed to ensure that our local schools, as well as the Palo Alto Unified School District leadership, are notified as quickly as possible during a potential safety incident."
He noted that "there were several layers of complexity to this safety incident, including numerous reports on where the suspect may have been. As with any in-progress public safety incident details are fluid and often our response is dynamic."
The man was booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail for robbery and commercial burglary, both felonies, and resisting arrest, a misdemeanor. The man also had a warrant out of Palo Alto for driving with a suspended license and is on probation out of San Mateo County for misdemeanor assault on a peace officer, police said.
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 email@example.com or sent via text message or voicemail to 650-383-8984.
Editor's Note: Palo Alto Online's policy is to withhold the names of those arrested for most crimes until the District Attorney has determined there is sufficient evidence to file charges in the case. See our guidelines here.