Hiding in the dark: Turlock High students describe the hour after false report of shooter

Turlock High student Hailey Lopes was eating lunch in the school’s theater with friends when, “All of a sudden we heard people screaming outside. We turned around and through the window we could see people running full speed.”

Next a voice came on the intercom telling them the school was on lockdown, that it wasn’t a drill.

The drama teacher instructed students to lie down on the floor between the rows of seats.

“There was a lot of people crying,” Lopes said. “It was really scary.”

Lyla Mazuelos was also in the theater when the lockdown started.

She began texting her parents, alternating between asking for information and telling them she loves them.

But the students were told to get off their phones and to be quiet so they wouldn’t draw attention to themselves. Then the lights were turned off.

“All we could see was the exit signs, it was all red light; that’s a nice image,” Mazuelos said. “We were huddled down. I had my knees against the seat in front of me; we were all curled up.”

What precipitated the 90 minute lockdown — during which teams of officers with rifles went from building to building to ensure the students and staff in each was safe — was a report on the campus radio of an active shooter on campus.

Chief Nino Amirfar, who was first to arrive at the scene, said they do not know who broadcast the shooting claim on the radio but said the incident is being treated as a hoax.

“Someone may have got a hold of a school radio and blared it out over the radio,” he said. Regardless “of if it is a phone call or over the radio because someone left one lying around, doesn’t matter, the response is the same.”

The response included every Turlock Police officer on duty and others being called in early, as well as mutual aid from the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, Stanislaus State Police, the Turlock Fire Department and multiple ambulances from American Medical Response.

Julien Elementary School and Sacred Heart Elementary School were also put on lockdown.

Sgt. Russ Holeman said that two teams systematically searched each building on the campus, one from the west and one from the east and meeting in the center.

Amirfar said the priority Tuesday was ensuring the safety of the students but that an investigation will be done to try to determine who made the report. There is potential for criminal charges or discipline by the school, he said.

The chief said he realized parents were concerned but cautioned them about trying to immediately get to their children.

“By you coming to the campus and you trying to enter the campus while we’re trying to search you delay the process,” he said. “You put yourself at risk. We don’t know who the shooter is. Anyone who is seen walking on campus is going to be seen as a possible suspect.”

Dozens of parents rushed to the area as rumors spread on social media and they received phone calls and texts from their children about a possible active shooter.

“It was really hard to find out what was going on,” Lyla’s father Neal Mazuelos said. “Luckily the police found out early on that it was not going to be an actual active shooter situation.”

Mazuelos, like many parents, took his daughter out of school after the campus was cleared.

“Still,” he said, “Especially for the kids inside, it made no difference. We shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t be in a world where this is normal for everyone and it can’t keep happening and keep being left to happen again. It wasn’t an actual situation this time but nobody knows when it is (going to be) and we can’t just sit and do nothing.”

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