A social media exchange between two students caused a frightening lockdown at Atascadero High School on Thursday, police said, two days after a mass shooting in Texas killed 19 children and two teachers.
According to a news release from the Atascadero Police Department, there was no direct threat to the high school and the incident was isolated between the students. But the school was placed on lockdown “out of an abundance of caution.”
The police learned of a concerning social media post made by an Atascadero High School student around 9 p.m. Wednesday evening. The student posted a video on Snapchat racking a shotgun.
The student lives in a rural part of the county outside of the city of Atascadero, the news release said.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office contacted the student and his parents confirmed the weapon was secure and the student no longer had access to the gun.
The Police Department notified the Atascadero Unified School District of the Snapchat post prior to AHS opening on Thursday morning. The school district was already receiving information about the social media post.
Atascadero Police Chief Robert Masterson told the Tribune the department did not have enough evidence to definitively negate a threat on campus prior to the school opening Thursday morning. To ensure everyone’s safety, the school decided to go on lockdown and send all students and staff home.
He added that there was never a gun on campus despite posts on social media that said otherwise.
Police emphasized the Snapchat post was sent to a specific individual and not directed toward the school.The post was shared with friends, and spread from there.
The post was of a threatening nature but not a direct threat, Masterson told the Tribune.
“It was really more along the lines of, if you bother me, this is what you’re going to get type of deal,” he said.
The investigation is ongoing and any charges will be submitted to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office for review.
The police ask anyone with more information regarding the incident to call 805-461-5051.
‘I was really terrified,’ student says
Students arriving for class on Thursday morning were quickly turned around as administrators and police responded to the threat.
Lisette Escobar, an 18-year-old Atascadero High senior, and another student were in a restroom near the office when an announcement was broadcast over the school public address system.
When Escobar left the restroom, a teacher told her to go home immediately if she had a ride or to shelter in the library, she told The Tribune.
Escobar said she went back into the restroom to tell the other girl and then the two “ran as fast as we could to the library.”
“Once I got there, I found out that it was a school shooting threat,” she said via text.
Escobar said the librarian told her to have her parents pick her up from the senior parking lot near the gym, but she was able to connect with a friend who had a car and left safely.
“I was really terrified and filled with anxiety because I was scared something was going to happen as we were leaving campus,” she said.
“I didn’t feel safe at all, even after they told us that we were going to be OK,” she said.
When they got to school Thursday morning, Lonnie Lyon, a 15-year-old sophomore, and Jace Mcelhaney, a 14-year-old freshman, said they were confused to find students leaving in a hurry.
The students told The Tribune that they heard someone sent a video of themselves with a gun to another student. They later saw social media posts that a gun was on campus.
Senior Chloe Deskin, 18, had just parked her car near Atascadero Bible Church at around 8:20 a.m. Thursday and was walking to campus when she saw a group of staff and students near the entrance, along with a police officer blocking the road up to the school.
A school librarian stopped her and told her the campus was on lockdown, she told The Tribune. She was advised to go home and wait until law enforcement said it was safe.
Superintendent sends lockdown message to parents
As the events were unfolding on campus, Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Tom Butler sent a message to parents via ParentSquare alerting them of the lockdown.
“This morning we were made aware of a threat to Atascadero High School,” Butler said. “Law enforcement responded swiftly and professionally to investigate the threat.”
“At the direction of the superintendent, Atascadero High School will be closed until law enforcement fully resolves this situation ensuring school safety,” Butler said. “When we are ensured that the campus is safe we may have a delayed start to the day.”
At the time, school officials said the district will be “pursuing the full legal and educational consequence to whomever is responsible.”
Police chief urges parents, students to report any and all threats
Atascadero Police Department, like nearly all police departments in the state, have conducted active shooter trainings since Columbine in 1999, Masterson told the Tribune.
He said while law enforcement has their own trainings, there are also individual trainings someone can attend that can teach them best practices in how to navigate an active shooter incident.
Masterson encourages parents and students to always report any concerning social media post to either the school or police in order to be vetted.
Social media often has misleading and incorrect information when it comes to school threats and parents and students should be wary about taking concerning posts at face value, he said. But each threat needs to be reported and taken seriously in order to ensure a tragedy like Uvalde does not happen again.
“We’d much rather investigate 100 false alarms and then miss the one true alarm that we should have paid attention to,” he said.
Currently at Atascadero High School where the school is evacuating all students due to a threat. Parents have called saying there are reports of a student with a gun
— Chloe Jones (@chloeleejones) May 26, 2022