Gunn High School student taken into custody for alleged online shooting threat | News | Palo Alto Online |


Gunn High School student taken into custody for alleged online shooting threat

Facebook group moderators forwarded alarming submission to police

Palo Alto police early Friday morning apprehended a Gunn High School student who had allegedly threatened a school shooting on social media.

The 17-year-old was taken in for a mental health evaluation. He or she may face criminal charges, police said.

Police received an emailed tip shortly after 9 p.m. on Thursday from moderators of a public Facebook group about a threat, which had been submitted anonymously to the group through an online form, of a shooting to occur at Gunn sometime on Friday, according to a press release. After seeing the submission, the moderators forwarded it to the police's email tip line, and did not post the threat on the Facebook page.

The threat was several paragraphs long, police said, and "referenced the author being in possession of a handgun and desiring to shoot students." The message "implied that it had been written by a Gunn High School student," the release states.

Detectives and school resource officers immediately opened an investigation and eventually identified the suspect as a 17-year-old Gunn student. At about 2:45 a.m. on Friday, police contacted the student at his or her home in Palo Alto and safely took the teen into custody for a mental health evaluation. Police searched the home and found a "realistic-looking replica handgun that shoots BBs" in the student's room.

Superintendent Don Austin said Friday morning that he and other top administrators, including Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks, Safety Manager Mike Jacobs, Gunn Principal Kathie Laurence and the district's technology department, worked closely with police overnight to help identify the student.

Jacobs' position was approved by the school board in August to bring more oversight to security and safety efforts across the district's schools.

This incident is a "good reminder," Austin said, of why the district wanted to invest in this position and put more of a focus on school safety.

There will be increased police presence at Gunn today, he said.

In a message to the Gunn community on Friday, Laurence wrote that the school and police department determined it was safe for Gunn to be open on Friday.

"Any event of this nature can be unsettling. In addition, we know that this time of year can be stressful for students and families as finals and winter break approach," she wrote. "The Wellness Center and counselors will be available for any students who need support today at Gunn High School."

Detectives will be submitting the case to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and Juvenile Probation Department for review.

The school district has also started its own investigation into the incident, Austin said.

The police department encouraged anyone who sees something suspicious, whether in person or online, to promptly report it to their local law enforcement agency.

"We applaud the moderators of the Facebook group for identifying this threat and reporting it to us so we could open an investigation and find the person responsible," police said.

This is the second shooting threat related to Gunn and made through social media this year. In August, police took into custody a 14-year-old student who allegedly threatened a shooting on campus through comments left on a police department Instagram post.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the police 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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63 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2019 at 9:06 am

This is a very difficult thing to read and even more so to comment on.

This young person lives among us, the family lives among us, and yet the whole of this article shows sadness, anger and anguish. Obviously mental health is a big part of this, but things like loneliness, bullying, rejection, pressures from peers and parents, are all possible causes of whatever symptoms drove the individual to make the threats and we don't really know to what extent those possible threats would have been more than just a threat and not a follow through action.

We have been worried about teen suicides. Now we see this. What we are missing is the call for help from our teens.

This is another call for help. We are missing something. The family is missing something. The schools are missing something. Society is missing something.

What are we missing? I don't know the answer, but I just know that something very important is being missed here and we need to find out.

My sincere "thoughts and prayers" to the family and the individual. I can't imagine what any of you have been going through and will go through in the coming weeks and months.

Thanks to all concerned for reporting this to the relevant authorities. Hopefully we can help those who need the help.

11 people like this
Posted by Someone
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 13, 2019 at 10:12 am

[Post removed.]

19 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2019 at 11:33 am

Novelera is a registered user.

A very sad thing to read. What appears to be happening is the "copycat" syndrome. Ever since Columbine there's been massive media attention to school shootings. For a disaffected, unhappy child, one who may also be suicidal, this seems like a way to draw attention to themselves and to, so to speak, go out in a blaze of glory.

I'm very grateful to the moderator and to the Palo Alto police for nipping this in the bud.

26 people like this
Posted by Jon Keeling
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2019 at 12:19 pm

Jon Keeling is a registered user.

For those who didn't already see my comments on this on Nextdoor or Facebook, I will recap here...

Good job by the people who reported it and then of course the PAPD and PAUSD (particularly Mike Jacobs) for following up. This incident was treated with the seriousness it deserved.

I am not a "thoughts & prayers" kind of person. When I see a situation that can be improved, I jump in to help. So my question is: How can we reduce the chances of things like this (or worse - an actual school shooting) happening? I am working on prevention efforts.

We already have Challenge Day at some of our schools and I think we should have it at every middle school and high school.

I also work with Crisis Text Line (memorize their number: 741741) and mention it often when I see students mentioning anxiety, depression or suicide on the Facebook group that was used for this incident (many of the students at Gunn know me through my efforts to help via that forum and/or through their very limited Challenge Day event).

And I have been trying to get momentum going for a mentoring program for Palo Alto high school students. A lot of students could benefit from guidance from non-parent adults: Web Link

There are MANY options for groups and activities that can help kids through their anxiety, depression and other emotions. Many kids are pressured too much to focus on academics and extra-curricular activities are often designed for what is felt would look best on a college application, as opposed to what the student actually enjoys doing. I deal with this sort of thing ALL.THE.TIME in both my professional life and volunteer efforts.

By the way, I also do some parenting coaching (and a bunch of other things dealing with mentoring, school safety, and more - many of you already know me for some of these things) for those who are struggling to understand or deal with their kids. All the above is as a volunteer. My time is limited but I do what I can. There are others in our community also working to help our kids work through their struggles. Our kids are worth it! Want to join me with any of this stuff? Want to become a Crisis Counselor, a mentor, help with school safety issues?

On a related note, my Karate group is starting its annual week-long charity fundraising event today. We do a kick-a-thon for charity and this year is for Challenge Day. Last year was for Crisis Text Line. Quite a few years ago, we did one for the families of victims of the shooting in Newtown, CT which is MY HOMETOWN, a quieter place than Palo Alto by far and arguably far less likely a place for a school shooting... Web Link

For anyone who would like to discuss any of the above, or anything else dealing with safety - particularly of our kids - please let me know. This is my life. And I'd love for others to help me help your kids and our community. :-)

7 people like this
Posted by Jon Keeling
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2019 at 12:25 pm

Jon Keeling is a registered user.

@Novelera: Our PAPD Chief Jonsen has done extensive research/work in an effort to better understand mass/school shootings and try to prevent them. He (and others in their own research) have looked into the common traits of people who commit mass shootings. There are not actually a ton of things these people have in common. But there are a few. And a feeling of isolation is a big one.

There are things we can do to help and a big part of it is building a supportive community. I really hope the community and school district can work increasingly toward this...

1 person likes this
Posted by Penny
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2019 at 12:51 pm

— moderators of a public Facebook group about a threat, which had been submitted anonymously to the group through an online form,—

I know this is pedantic but what is an anonymous online form on Facebook? Never seen that. Is that a thing?

16 people like this
Posted by Jon Keeling
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2019 at 1:21 pm

Jon Keeling is a registered user.

@Penny- Facebook has an option for schools to set up "confessions" pages through which students can post anonymously about things like "I have a crush on this guy in my biology class; anyone know if he is dating anyone already?" or "Which is harder, Honors Chem or AP Chem?" or "I am sick of my parents being on my back about grades all the time." There is a group for Gunn and another (barely used) for PALY. I am one of the few parents who sometimes chimes in on the Gunn Confessions page, for example when someone mentions suicide or depression. Having done extensive volunteer work in the mental health field, many of the students seem appreciative of my comments. Sometimes it is simply a reminder about Crisis Text Line and other times I may provide some words of support. But I try my best not to be intrusive or creepy. But I can't sit back and try to ignore the problems our kids are facing, particularly when I know I can help.

Unfortunately, some kids write some vile stuff on there sometimes and I wish the moderators would not approve all of those posts. But they did GREAT work reporting this particular incident to PAPD. I am happy to put up with the profanity and vile comments if it means we can avert a potential school shooting!

Being from Newtown, CT, this stuff is particularly important to me. And I have dealt with suicidal people (some of whom have actually killed themselves) many times over the years. I have at least one verified save through Crisis Text Line and am happy to report that I got three other people to become Crisis Counselors through them to help with the great work this network of mostly volunteers does (anyone interested, please contact me at to discuss). We can all help to create a more supportive community and reduce suicide and mass shootings and help people avoid isolation, depression, feelings of hopelessness.

23 people like this
Posted by Kim Martin
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2019 at 1:31 pm

If the family at the center of this story is reading this, please accept my invitation to a night out or a movie, a hike, or a drink whatever.

People in crisis rarely raise a red flag for help. That's just not how crisis works, but hindsight is 20/20 and often we can see many hints in retrospect.

Palo Alto is a very accomplished and "neighborly" community, but it is a hard place to grow up in and live if your origin story is not sensational. That is what we can change. We can appreciate people more for their kindness and the content of their character instead of their accomplishments. We can look others in the eye, smile and say, "Hello!" far more often. We can read the nametags of people who provide us service and call them by their names. We can model this behavior so that our children attend school with a primary sense of collaboration rather than entitlement and competition.

Everyone is interesting. Everyone has a story - we just don't always listen to them, and everyone has big ideas, opinions, passions. Social media, with its algorithms and appearance-based bias over influence makes the effort to engage with others whenever you can all the more important.

High School is a very hard time for youth and families. No one is exempt, although sometimes it can look or feel like they are. This time begins the reckoning of a young individual's plans for the future with that of the family and society as a whole. I think there is a lot of room for improvement here. The seemingly infinite universe of careers is not presented to our high schoolers, and a family cannot practicably do this alone. Our society continues to place undue value on a narrow set of careers (doctor, lawyer, investment banker, engineer) as well as a short list of colleges one can be proud to attend. In fairness, the matriculation summary for our high schools looks very diverse, but I think we can do better.

I would personally appreciate "family education" regarding the reckoning mentioned above, as well as a different use of some of the high schools' funds. Currently, our high schools pay for all the students in a particular grade level to take the same standardized tests at the same time. It's a one-size-fits-all approach to something that definitely does not fit all. Let's let students self select on this, and take the remaining funds and make them available to students who would like to apply to programs and/or colleges that their families may not yet support/understand.

Even in our rich community we should take time to educate young people on how they can financially pursue their dreams on their own in the event their families are not on board with them. Sometimes these paths look a little bit different than other more conventional paths, but that all works itself out pretty soon, and what's most important is that people continue to hold on to their dreams and when the timing is right, pursue them.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel! Take time for yourselves students! Winter break is just over a week away.

6 people like this
Posted by Jon Keeling
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2019 at 1:42 pm

Jon Keeling is a registered user.

@Kim Martin - I want to be your friend. :-)

Seriously - If anyone wants another friend, I'm available. [Portion removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 13, 2019 at 2:00 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 13, 2019 at 2:06 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]
I don’t think owning a B.B. gun and rambling on the internet represent a clear and present danger.
I don’t know the family or the kids, but it sounds like a group think scapegoating.

[Portion removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Gross
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 13, 2019 at 3:01 pm

[Post removed,]

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 13, 2019 at 3:45 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2019 at 6:39 pm

cvvhrn is a registered user.

@ marc,

Perhaps not, but in this day and age post Sandy Hook, post........... Do you want to take the chance? As a Nurse at Packard Children's and the parent of a Gunn High School, I do not to be professionally or personally struggling to deal with the aftermath if a threat was ignored.

5 people like this
Posted by Jon Keeling
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 14, 2019 at 1:13 pm

Jon Keeling is a registered user.

I am suggesting that members of this community fully embrace each other and programs that help with compassion, empathy and not letting anyone feel isolated. I work with many of these programs. SandyHookPromise "Start with Hello" for elementary school kids, Challenge Day for middle and high school kids, and a mentoring program for kids who can use some extra one-on-one time with a caring adult. There is a lot we can do and it can work better if we work on it together.

And it may be worth noting that it was 7 years ago today that a school shooting took place in my otherwise quiet hometown of Newtown, CT, at Sandy Hook Elementary, where I used to roller skate in their multi-purpose room on Friday evenings as a kid. What have we learned from this and other events like it? One thing that I hope everyone understands is that it's better to be safe than sorry when dealing with threats and rumors. I have also learned that we should all work to build a supportive community. If you want to join me in this effort, please let me know. Want to see the power of ChallengeDay first-hand? I can try to get you in as a volunteer at LAHS in early January, when they run the program for their entire freshman class. Together, we can make the world a better place.

2 people like this
Posted by theAlex
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2019 at 11:25 pm

theAlex is a registered user.

Let's be serious here. Shooting people and mass-shootings in particular, at the scale and frequency that occurs in this country, is a uniquely American phenomenon. There is obviously a broader problem here.

While reaching out to kids and "doing what we can" makes everyone feel good, let's be serious here: This is a problem with the current American culture, as a whole.

I suggest that our extreme Capitalism and Conservative politics, which includes a sickening Nationalism, may be the problem. This is the sobering conclusion I have come to.

12 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 15, 2019 at 12:26 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

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