Modesto police identify woman shot dead on school playground

School reopens; Police investigate 'suicide by cop' angle

December 16, 2009 

  • AT A GLANCE

    Modesto police officer-involved shootings in 2009:

    • Jan. 11: Officer Latisha Leap shot Richard Robles, 45, after he confronted her while carrying a sword in downtown Modesto. Robles died at a hospital about an hour later. The district attorney's office concluded that Leap's use of force was justifiable.
    • Oct. 25: An off-duty officer shoots and injures Glen Dean Carey, 24, who was alleged to be burglarizing a home in the officer's neighborhood.
    • Saturday: Three police officers shoot at burglary suspect Michael Baker, wounding him in the chest.
    • Tuesday: Police officers shoot and kill a woman who walked onto the Everett Elementary School campus with a large knife.

    Internal investigations are under way to review the use of force in the three most recent cases.


Update: As children returned to Catherine Everett Elementary School today, investigators tried to determine what led a woman who lived nearby to come to campus with a large knife and, ultimately, be shot to death in a confrontation with police. The woman was identified as Elizabeth Catherine Kropp, 43.

While children played at recess early this afternoon, a man who knew Kropp said she was "not mentally there."

"She was always talking to herself," said the man, whose mother lives in the house on Joni Avenue where Kropp rented a room.

The man, who did not give his name, said he had seen Kropp on Tuesday morning about 10:30 a.m. She was walking barefoot but seemed happy, he said.

The home where Kropp lived is a short walk from the Everett school playground.

Update: Children, many with parents by their side, returned to Catherine Everett Elementary School this morning, a day after a woman with a knife came on to campus and was eventually shot dead by police.

Elizabeth Catherine Kropp, 43, of Modesto, was identified as the woman who entered the campus playground around 2 p.m. on Tuesday and began hitting herself with what was described as a meat cleaver or butcher knife, according to Sgt. Brian Findlen of the Modesto Police Department.

Police say Kropp lived near the school and had a history of mental illness. They are investigating the possibility that this was a “suicide by cop” incident, according to Findlen.

Police did not release the names of the two officers involved in the shooting. They are on paid-administrative leave while the investigation continues, a course of action that is standard procedure.

Interim Police Chief Mike Harden, along with other officers, met with about 50 parents and staff in the school cafeteria this morning to discuss the incident. Among the topics were how the woman gained access to the campus.

School counselors, along with others brought in from Davis High School, were made available to students.

School officials said 55 students were not in attendance this morning. Normally, there are about five absences a day for the school of 490 children.

Parents at the school spoke highly of how both the school and police handled the incident, which was over in about 20 minutes.

No children or staff were hurt.

A lot of the children arrived this morning with parents, more than usual. However, the scattered rain might have had something to do with that, parents and staff said.

Check back at modbee.com throughout the day as we continue to cover this story.


Police officers shot and killed a woman Tuesday after she walked onto the playground of a north Modesto elementary school, cutting herself in the head with a large knife in front of children and school officials.

The unidentified woman charged at officers, who were forced to "resort to the use of deadly force," said Sgt. Brian Findlen, a Modesto police spokesman.

No other injuries were reported.

Police did not release the woman's name Wednesday night, but they described her as a white woman in her early 40s. Findlen said she was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The school remained on lockdown for about 50 minutes, until about 3 p.m., when children were led out of classrooms in groups to their parents or guardians, who waited for them in front of the school.

Investigators spent most of the afternoon and evening gathering evidence at the scene and speaking to witnesses.

The incident occurred shortly after 2 p.m. at Catherine Everett Elementary School at 1530 Mount Vernon Drive, several blocks west of Tully Road and north of Briggsmore Avenue.

Findlen said some children were on the playground when the woman came on the campus with what appeared to be a meat cleaver. He said she was described as acting bizarre and "hitting herself in the head and upper body with the sharp edge of the blade."

There was no indication the woman threatened any children or school employees, Findlen said.

Investigators were trying to determine whether the woman knew any students or employees, Findlen said, but there was no information that indicated she had a link to the school.

Findlen said some of the children saw the woman's actions.

Quick action saluted

Police and school officials credited Principal Michael Brady and yard duty supervisor Trent Greer for speaking to the woman, distracting her as other staff members ushered the children into classrooms.

Findlen said the school officials continued to speak to the woman, but she did not respond.

At 2:08 p.m., police dispatchers received the first report from campus officials that the woman was on the school's basketball courts, injuring herself with the knife.

Findlen said the children were inside their classrooms when two police officers arrived about three minutes later.

He said the officers approached the woman and she charged at them, carrying the knife. Both officers fired shots, hitting the woman.

Kris Silva, 32, lives across the alley east of the school. He said he heard the incident unfold from his home.

"I was in the back yard when I heard a lot of screaming; it was the children screaming," Silva said. "About 15 minutes later, I heard a barrage of gunshots. It was about five to six gunshots."

Silva said he ran to look into the school's playground through the cyclone fence that borders the campus. "I saw someone lying on the ground, and the police officers were standing nearby."

Silva's daughter is a second-grader at the school. He waited nervously along with hundreds of other parents and relatives who were notified of the incident through the school's automated phone messaging service.

Counselors at the ready

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

Modesto police officials will be on campus this morning to discuss the incident and answer questions to reassure parents the school is safe. Officers will provide extra patrols around the campus today.

"This is a tragic and unfortunate set of circumstances," said acting Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden, who was on campus 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 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.

Findlen said the two officers who fired their weapons in Tuesday's shooting were placed on paid administrative leave while the incident is investigated, which is standard procedure in officer- involved shootings.

Investigations begin

Modesto police detectives and investigators from the Stanislaus County district attorney's office are investigating the incident, which also is routine.

Harden said the officers in Tuesday's shooting were trying to protect themselves and the children. He said it's a tragic event when a police officer has to use deadly force.

"Now, imagine you have to do that at a school where there are children," Harden said. "They might not have seen (the shooting) happen, but surely they heard it." Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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