Mass Shooting Scare at Wilson High School

By: 
Roberto Vazquez

On a beautiful Monday morning in April 2022, Long Beach became, albeit briefly, the site of a possible school mass shooting at Wilson High School.

A Beachcomber reporter was on location, covering the story as it unfolded in real time.

This is the chronology of events, based on a single, continuous recording and a reporter’s notes.

Time Stops and Police Arrive

11:24: Police cars have just arrived and begun to block off streets. Students have scattered and many still stand near the police squad cars.

11:27: A call is made to Jay Beeler, publisher of the Beachcomber, of a possible active shooter on campus.

11:28: The first group of students are interviewed. Connor Mueller and his friend Jake Kohagura are standing near the corner of 10th and Park Avenue.

Kohagura shares, “For the most part I feel pretty safe.” He adds, “There probably is no imminent threat; it’s certainly a bad thing that it’s a risk you need to live with these days.”

Mueller describes an incident the previous week, one in which a student(s) sent a threatening letter to an unspecified number of fellow students, using StudentView, part of the LBUSD online system. At this point, it’s still not clear exactly what the student’s threats were, who received them, or why.

Nearby, another young man draws near.

Matthew Freede says something out loud, then repeats his words for a reporter.

“We’re desensitized to it. It’s sobering.”

Mueller agrees. “I do feel along the same lines as them. It is desensitizing. It happens so frequently.”

A day prior, six people were murdered and a dozen were wounded in a mass shooting in Sacramento.

11:37: As Lorena Ortiz speaks rapidly into her cell phone, a chopper flies above, its blades sending concussive waves downward to the crowd below.

When Ortiz hangs up, she says she has two children at Wilson, a son and a daughter, one a sophomore, the other a junior. “I’m nervous. It’s frustrating. They’re not telling us anything,” adding, “I’m afraid, very afraid, like I’m in shock, I never thought this would happen. I hope it’s nothing, I really do.”

Just before a reporter leaves, she says, “I’m afraid of dropping them off, afraid of them coming to school.They’re not coming back to the school this week. He (whoever is responsible) needs to be kicked out of school. My daughter said they (students) were running everywhere out of fear.”

11:46: Omar Adam is a junior at Wilson. He states he has no idea who is responsible for the incident but he is the first to declare there isn’t a mass shooter, that it was firecrackers.

“I just saw the firecrackers. It went on for like three seconds. It was kinda like smoking after it went off.”

11:51: Federico Palomera Perez is a parent, seeking his son Daniel, a 12th grader.

According to Perez, his son is hiding in a classroom with his friends, waiting to be freed. In Spanish, Mr. Perez said, “My son and his friends can’t talk (out of fear). I feel nervous because my son is stuck there. I don’t feel as secure or certain with him being here at this school, going forward.”

11:54: Kalliope Negas is a 17- year-old senior.

At the time she became aware something was wrong, she was in the parking lot area.

Negas points out the email threat the previous week then brings up another scary incident. “They had a bomb threat sophomore year. They had (bomb sniffing) dogs in campus.”

11:57: Ilona English, a parent, arrives and confides, “She (her daughter) called me frantic. She just heard pops and they’re not telling them anything, either. I’m sure she’s freaking out.”

She added, “I just sent her a screenshot of what the district sent us, saying it was fireworks…everybody is here, frantic, they don’t know what’s going on… I feel better this gentleman told me it was fireworks.”

11:59: A teacher spoke with the Beachcomber on condition of anonymity and professional consideration.

“I was impressed; I felt reassured they’ll take whatever measures to protect the school. It showed they’re only minutes away. There’re 3,700 kids on campus … somebody knows something. The culture of schools right now is that people are scared. When they hear anything about a threat, people are gonna be scared.”

The teacher also mentioned the ease with which guns can be built from 3-D kits, adding these kits can then be converted by adding what’s called a “sear,” which converts the kit gun into an automatic weapon. The kits and sear adapters are apparently available online.

12:03: LBPD gives the clear sign and movement to and from the high school resumes.

12:07: A woman clutching her daughter rushes by, the younger woman’s face is a reddened mask of pain, as tears stream from her swollen eyes. Two LBPD S.W.A.T officers pass, too, their body language now relaxed, their helmets in their hands.

12:08: Javier Sandoval arrives to pick up his daughter, a 9th grader. He simply says, “It’s scary. I’m still scared to send her to school, but she’s still gotta come to school.”

He added: “It’s kinda hard to figure out what to do. A metal detector ain’t gonna detect a firecracker.”

12:13: Bridgette Jones arrives for a previously scheduled meeting with Wilson High School principal, Kim Holland. Jones is the PTSA president at Wilson. Her daughter, Alexis, is an 11th grader. Jones explained, “She texted me that she was walking through campus, heard some shots, and her and her friend got separated. The kids started running.” Jones added, “She immediately, probably, had an anxiety attack. She was complaining of a throbbing headache, feeling like she had to vomit and couldn’t calm down. They (pranksters) don’t understand the emotional toll it takes on people who are already spun, due to COVID and everything else that is happening right now. I’m hoping that child or student is identified and appropriately disciplined because this is such a serious thing.”

Jones continues,”Not only is it an emotional toll,but when you have to have S.W.A.T come up to your campus, someone could really get hurt, some innocent kid, maybe wearing earbuds, (who) has no idea what’s going on, they could get shot!”

“So, I just think it’s imperative that parents speak with their kids about jokes and that, at school, there’s no place for pranks and jokes.”

A reporter asks if Jones is familiar with something referred to as, SWATTING, which are calls made to police departments with the intent of eliciting an armed response from law enforcement, often S.W.A.T, hence the name. There has been more than one incident which resulted in an innocent person being mistakenly killed by law enforcement in the chaos and confusion these prank calls can often produce.

Jones replied, “You can’t be that intelligent if this is the type of prank you’ll pull at a school, that you think is funny, when we already have major situations; Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, all these school shootings that occur.” Jones was told about the comments of Matthew Freede and she agreed, “It really is (desensitizing).”

12:19: Isiah and Isaac Cazares, brothers, are in the 11th and 10th grade, respectively.

Isiah spoke first. “People said, ‘Run!’  An alarm went off and scared everybody. A different one besides the fire alarm ... very different. It was the first time that I’d heard it. I was close by. I was aware of the firecrackers. People started sprinting everywhere. I think that’s what got everybody scared. It went off and it scared everybody.”

Isaac stated, “I was in the media center with my friends hanging out, relaxing. It was lunchtime. Next thing you know, I looked to my left and a bunch of people were running in.” Their mother arrived just as Isaac finished speaking. Their mother, Anna Cazares said, “I don’t know if I’m gonna drop them off tomorrow. I think it’s gonna take a while for me to feel a little bit more at ease. I’m still alarmed, but I was just shocked. I got a text from them saying they were locked at school and there was an active shooter. They didn’t know what was going on. I know a lot of kids were jumping the fences and  were leaving. Super scary the time we are living in.”

A reporter brings up the 3-D handgun kits.

Isiah says, “I have seen those.” His mother States, “That’s scary. It’s mind blowing how accessible all this is to the kids and exactly how do we screen for all of this? A metal detector is not gonna detect any of that. Very scary.” Cazares added, “They do it for stadiums, (or) for recreational reasons. This is for the safety of the kids, they need to do that.”

12:31: Jessie Garvey and Abigail Zopfi are seniors walking home from school. Zopfi says, “They should take every single threat very seriously and I know they have in the past, but this is just an example of how easily stuff can get into the campus. They should just continuously do bag checks, not once every other 10 people, but take the time to do every single person, every morning.”

Zopfi was satisfied with the performance of the LBPD. “I think they handled it really well, like coming in with that much authority, that was a smart idea, especially in these kinds of situations, absolutely.” She added, “If it was this easy for firecrackers to get on campus, then I wonder what else could get on campus.” Then, as if to be very clear in her message, Abigail Zopfi repeated herself.

“Just keep up the safety precautions.”

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