Woman with knife shot dead by police at Modesto school

Police: Woman acted bizarrely, charged officers

December 15, 2009 

Modesto police shot to death a woman on a Modesto elementary school playground this afternoon after she came on to campus with a large knife, according to the Modesto Police Department.

No students or staff at Catherine Everett Elementary School were injured in the incident that began just after 2 p.m. on the campus at 1530 Mount Vernon Drive, police said.

Police have not released the woman's name, but they described her as a white woman in her 50s. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead, according to Modesto police Sgt. Brian Findlen.

The school remained under lockdown until about 3 p.m. At that point, children were led out of the classrooms in groups to their parents or guardians, who were waiting for them in front of the school.

“I was hoping it wasn’t this school,” said Rhiannon Green, who has two sons, age 9 and 5, at the school. “I just want my kids out.”

According to police, children were on the playground when, for an unknown reason, the woman came on to the campus with what appeared to be either a large butcher knife or meat cleaver, Findlen said. He said she was described as acting bizarre, and hitting herself on the head with the knife.

School officials immediately ushered the children into classrooms as others tried to distract the woman and get her attention. School officials put the school on lockdown and called police.

Findlen did say that some of the children witnessesd the woman's actions.

"She was like bleeding to death, said sixth-grader Devin Walski, who saw her hit herself with the knife as he walked from a classroom to music practice.

He, along with other children, were immediately ordered into classrooms.

When officers arrived minutes later, two officers confronted the woman. She charged the officers, Findlen said, and at least one of the officers fired shots, hitting the woman.

One neighbor said about 15 minutes before the shooting, he heard children screaming. When police arrived, he said he heard multiple gunshots. He came out of his house and saw a woman laying on the playground near the basketball courts with the officers near her.

School officials said classes will resume Wednesday, and counselors will be available to students and staff at the school.

Modesto police officials will be on campus Wednesday morning to discuss the incident and answer any questions to reassure parents the school is safe for their children. Officers will also provide extra patrols around the campus Wednesday.

"This is a tragic and unfortunate set of circumstances," said acting Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden who was at the school helping school officials release children to their parents. "We need to take some time to find out why this individual did this. What’s her story?"

It was the second officer-involved shooting by a Modesto Police Department officer in four days and the fourth this year.

On Saturday, officers shot and wounded an 18-year-old man suspected of running away from an attempted burglary and driving a pickup directly at officers early Saturday at Johansen High School in east Modesto.

Michael Baker of Modesto suffered a gunshot wound to the chest that was not life-threatening and was taken by ambulance to a hospital for treatment, Findlen said.

The three officers involved were placed on paid administrative leave per standard procedures while an investigation continues.

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On Oct. 25, an off-duty officer shot 24-year-old Modesto resident Glen Dean Carey, suspected of burglarizing a central Modesto home. Police said the officer confronted Carey as he walked out of the home carrying a gun he stole from the home.

Carey survived his injuries and was arrested on suspicion of residential burglary. Police did not release the officer's name to ensure his safety, because he lives on the street where the burglary took place.

The first officer-involved shooting this year took place Jan. 11, when officer Latisha Leap shot Richard Robles Jr., 45, after he confronted her carrying a sword in downtown Modesto. Robles died at a hospital about an hour later.

After an extensive investigation, district attorney's officials said Leap was "legally justified in her use of deadly force."

We'll have more information throughout the evening as this situation evolves.

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