Hundreds of parents pulled their children out of Modesto High School on Wednesday morning in response to a scrawled note that threatened a killing spree at fourth-period lunch.
The 10:40-to-11:15 a.m. lunchpassed, unnaturally quiet, under the watchful eyes of two armed police officers, campus supervisors on bikes and on foot, Principal Jason Manning and at least a half-
dozen district office administrators.
But still, mom Janny Guzman raced to the school when she heard the news and pulled out her daughter at 11:30 a.m. "She told me I'm overreacting," Guzman said. "I just don't want to take any chances."
In all, 362 students were checked out of the school by anxious parents Wednesday, about 15 percent of the student body, said Thor Harrison, director of seven-12 educational services for Modesto City Schools. The number of students who simply stayed home won't be known for a few days as absences are cleared.
Office personnel said the phones rang nonstop all morning and the line of parents at the attendance office grew to 50 or so by 10 a.m.
U.S. government teacher Chris Peterson said he had a handful of students missing early in the day. "By third (period), half my kids were gone," he said.
Walking to fourth-period lunch, student Bailey Donnelly said she didn't know anything about the threat when she came to school, but she was in the minority. The note was found on campus Monday, and a photo of it went viral Tuesday night on Facebook and Twitter.
A student reported finding what looked like a sticky note lying on a gym floor Monday afternoon and turned it in. Modesto police investigated and deemed it not to be a credible threat, the district said, but campus security increased for the day as a precaution.
The note says "Ima Kill every one, 3-6-14 at 4th lunch Watch out for guy iN All Black," then ends with a gang tag.
Many students wear black
Guys (and gals) in black were everywhere Wednesday, wearing school T-shirts and senior sweat shirts, as well as everyday rain gear, jackets and black denim pants. Looking out over a sea of students heading to lunch, black was the predominant color.
Most students said they knew about it but came anyway. "My mom asked me if I wanted to stay home, but I thought, all my friends are here. There were a lot of people not in class," said Max Rojas.
Nana Bekoe-Sakyi Jr. said he was "a little bit" worried and took his lunch to go.
But Riley Noland said he wasn't concerned. "It was just a note. It could have been anybody trying to get attention. The campus is safe," he said.
Student Body President Andrew Solis said students have gotten used to social media manic moments. "You see parents coming for kids. You don't see kids wanting to go home," he pointed out. "It's just another day. We are aware and all, a bit wary, but it's just another day at school. We feel safe here."
Nonetheless, students filed into a cafeteria that was largely quiet to choose among chicken nuggets, hamburgers and an assortment of other menu items. Outside, Marcos Bejaran strummed his guitar and sang gentle tunes that carried clearly across the normally bustling and boisterous campus quad.
"It's just stupid," announced Jessica Mendoza as she sat down at an outdoor table with a tray of turkey, gravy and potatoes.
'School is more important'
"It's very interrupting. School is more important," Pablo Hernandez said with a shake of his head. "It was all a hoax — you could tell." He added that there was no other Internet chatter or rumblings.
District head of student discipline Ed Miller agreed, saying social media once again spread panic where no hint of gang chatter or trouble brewing had been heard. "There was no talk of this at all at the school," Miller said.
What would happen to whoever wrote the note, he couldn't say. Depending on a student's history and if this was something planned, it could call for a psychiatric evaluation, school discipline or even expulsion. "It's very possible it's a joke," Miller said as helped watch over the half-deserted outdoor lunch area.