Sonoma Valley students left scared, forced to use buckets for restroom during lockdown
Students were left confused, scared and forced to use buckets as bathrooms Thursday after four Sonoma schools were put on lockdown for almost five hours.
Though it ultimately was proved to be unfounded, police said there was a “credible” threat of a shooting at Sonoma Valley High School, Sonoma Police Chief Brandon Cutting said.
Students at Sonoma Valley and Creekside high schools, along with Adele Harrison Middle School and Prestwood Elementary, were released without incident just before 3 p.m. They had been locked inside classrooms since 10 a.m. while law enforcement conducted a sweep of the high school to ensure no weapons were on campus, Cutting said.
“The threat came from an unknown source at this time,” Cutting told the Index-Tribune just after 2 p.m. “We are actively investigating the source of the call and are hoping to identify it shortly.”
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office issued a Nixle community alert at 3:09 p.m. that confirmed the threat was dismissed.
“After an investigation, including an extensive search of Sonoma Valley High School campus, deputies determined the school threat was unfounded,” the Nixle alert said. “Our request to avoid the area is now canceled.”
There was a significant law enforcement presence at the high schools while the threat was investigated.
‘We were blinded’
School officials notified parents via a districtwide email Thursday, but not until an hour after the lockdown began. An initial email at 10:55 a.m. was followed by a Nixle alert from the Sheriff’s Office asking people to avoid the area of the schools.
“Student safety is the highest priority, and students remain secure in their classrooms,” Superintendent Jeanette Rodriguez-Chien said in a follow-up email to parents at 11:33 a.m.
The threat had forced the school into “code yellow” status beginning at 9:55 a.m. Students were not allowed to leave their classrooms and the public was prohibited from entering the school campuses.
Sonoma Valley High School students said they felt confusion, fear then just boredom as law enforcement investigated backpacks and classrooms for firearms.
At 9:55 a.m., students had just returned inside after a fire alarm was pulled when the school suddenly announced the lockdown, according to Richie Cross, 17, a senior at the high school.
“We've had drills and stuff, but this is the first real lockdown we've had that was like a serious, serious situation,” he said. “Our teacher was updating us, talking about the status of the lockdown, but no threat was really given, though.”
Freshman Ashley Ramirez, 14, was trapped inside her photography class, watching law enforcement officers scour the grounds of the school in search of the threat.
“I texted my mom, when we first got into code yellow, to let her know,” she said. “I was really worried just because we didn't have any information about what was going on. So for the most part — confused, scared, we were blinded.”
Adele Harrison Middle School and Prestwood Elementary schools were put on lockdown due to their proximity to the high schools but were not under any threat, according to an advisory from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.
School officials, including Principal Molly Kiss, did not return the Index-Tribune’s multiple requests for comment.
As the lockdown set in, students watched movies on their phones or messaged each other over Instagram. One student, Oswaldo Larios, 16, a junior, went to the community social media site Nextdoor.
“Im a student at SVHS, ask questions we bored,” Larios posted, who then answered questions from the Sonoma Valley community in subsequent comments.
Students received “emergency buckets” containing food and water. But some were forced to use them as a bathroom. For others, the food was moldy.
“Two hours in, our class formed a little corner and we used the emergency bucket which had food and water,” Cross said. “And we took it all out, laid it on a table and then kind of made that bucket the restroom.”
Ramirez said students in her photography class used a sink in the dark room to relieve themselves. And the food inside the emergency bucket, she said, was inedible, moldy and expired.
A districtwide message from Superintendent Rodriguez-Chien said the school would provide meals to students while they were locked in the classrooms. But not all classrooms got food.
“The school was not well prepared for an occasion like this,” Ramirez said. “I know some classes did get food delivered. My class didn't. The one below me did.
“I'm pretty sure they had crates of bagels and juices... not actual meals.”
School lockdowns, particularly for the threat of a shooting, in Sonoma are foreign to students, parents and teachers.
“In Sonoma, you just don't expect it until it like happens,” Cross said. “You just don't expect it to happen to you. You see it on the news and then it happens, then you kind of wake up to it.”