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Local School Scandal


School threats prompt caution
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press April 27, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer

QUARTZ HILL - Rumors on Monday of a planned school shooting at Quartz Hill High School have deputies and school officials taking extra precautions to make local schools safer.

Monday's shooting threat is just one in a series of copycat incidents prompted by last week's deadly shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where 15 people died, including the two student gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

"We're taking this very seriously," said Robert Girolamo, superintendent of the Antelope Valley Union High School District. "What seems to have happened is the issue in Colorado has brought forward some kids that, I think in their mind, are playing a game, and the real sad part about it is it's a real tragedy where some young people were killed."

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies took crime reports on Monday from several Quartz Hill High School students who reported that two unidentified boys were making threats about a shooting on campus this morning.

"We have taken a report about possible terrorist threats and two students have been identified," said Lt. Dave Collin of the Lancaster Sheriff's Station. "While we don't know how credible these statements were, we're going to investigate them thoroughly."

Sheriff's deputies arrested two Highland High School students on Thursday for allegedly making terrorist threats - one reportedly threatened a girl on a bus ride to school; the other threatened an entire class during a first-period discussion about the tragedy in Colorado. Several other rumored threats have been reported to school security and sheriff's deputies. They turned out to be false.

"Our district is fortunate that our young people are coming to us and telling us what's going down," Girolamo said. "We follow up on any of the leads that we are getting." "We've had rumors on multiple campuses, and we're not ignoring them," Girolamo said."Our deputies and security folks are aware of the rumors."

He added that the rumors are a phenomenon that is happening at schools around the state. "What's happening is not just in our little area," Girolamo said. "What I'm hearing is it's sort of a statewide thing that all started since the incident that took place in Colorado." "Long Beach (Unified School District) has had so many rumors that they called in extra police on the campuses," Girolamo added.


High school students express worries over campus rumors
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press April 28, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


QUARTZ HILL - Students at local high schools don't like hearing about copycat threats that echo the danger of the Columbine High School violence at secondhand, but school officials say rumor control is a priority.

Two students were arrested last week at Highland High School, and on Tuesday, another student from Quartz Hill High School was arrested, allegedly for making terrorist threats.

Rumors of a planned shooting at Quartz Hill High which began to circulate Friday and continued Monday, prompted deputies and school officials to take extra precautions Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, some Quartz Hill High students said they were not even aware of Monday's rumor. Some young people dismissed the threat as a bluff, even as law enforcement moved to take all leads seriously.

"I think it's all talk," said senior Kevin McCalman. "They're not going to do anything. . . . It's a joke, really."

"I'm not saying they shouldn't check them out, but if you think about it, most people are just talk." McCalman added.

Earlier last week, two students were allegedly linked to a map drawing, which resembled the school. Words on the drawing said, "where to put a bomb." Another student found the map.

Highland High School has also been the target of copycat threats. There, two 17-year-olds were arrested last Thursday for making threats; one reportedly threatening a female student and another making a threat to a first-period class. At the time, the class was discussing the Colorado shooting spree.

While the copycat threats were made public through the media, junior James Basinger was one of many students who didn't know about Monday's alleged threat until later.

"It sucks because our parents find out before we do . . . and then we find out two days later when someone tells us at school," Basinger said. He added most students didn't find out about Thursday's alleged bomb threat until the next day.

Basinger and Yolanda Garcia, both juniors, believe the administration should notify the student body when they learn of threats.

"After that bomb over there in Colorado, I don't want to be in a school that is blown up," Garcia said.

But a school principal said sometimes the best course is the cautious one.

"You don't want to put out information that you don't know for sure," said Quartz Hill High School Principal Barbara Willibrand.

"If I were to give out information that wasn't factual, then I'd be spreading rumors like the ones we've been dealing with the last few days," Willibrand added.

In the meantime, rumors fly. Vanessa Shobbrook, a senior, said she heard two youths in class say there was a bomb threat on Tuesday.

Senior Amanda Travis said last week's sports assembly was canceled because of a rumored threat that someone at the assembly would be hurt.

Travis said one Quartz Hill student often teased by others told her Thursday that he was going to take actions similar to those taken by the Colorado shooters.

"He's like, `I'm going to form a Mafia and call it somethin'somethin,' " Travis said. "I was thinking, `They'd better leave him alone and stop messing with him.' "

So why are some students making copycat threats and spreading rumors? Students say it is to get attention.

"They just want to get recognized, " McCalman said.

Senior Erin Shelley said, "Right now everybody's seeing how much attention is being paid to what happened in Colorado. Some people are taking advantage of it."

Willibrand made it clear that no weapons of any kind have been found to substantiate the latest school threats. She added that Monday's threat was one of several rumors.

The students involved in the threats over the last few days were suspended for campus disruption, Willibrand said, and a memo was put out Friday stating appropriate action would be taken on those who see fit to make similar threats.

Still, some students may remain uneasy.

"Ever since what happened in Colorado, I`ve been a bit more aware of people on campus," Shobbrook said. "There are people you don't hang around with, but you never know; it could be anyone."

Since last Tuesday's teen shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., copycat threats and rumors of copycat threats have surfaced at high school campuses across the country. In Littleton, two teenage boys opened fired at the school April 20, killing 13 people - 12 students and one teacher. The two gunmen later committed suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wounds.


Handling of prank angers parents
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press April 29, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


AGUA DULCE - Three Vasquez High School students are still on campus despite allegedly pulling a prank last Tuesday that sent nine people to the hospital.

On the same day as the horrific Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo., April 20, where 15 people died, a can of elemental sodium was poured into a toilet, setting off an explosion.

With the Colorado horror still fresh on the minds of all Americans, Vasquez High parents are angered at what they see as a lack of action by school administrators.

Parents say they are perplexed in the aftermath of the prank because of the district's slow response in punishing those suspected of committing the dangerous prank.

Parents said they know who did it and want to know why they continue to attend classes.

Parent Jennie Hovland said she's had it with the district.

"It's not right," Hovland said. "I've called the school numerous times and they don't seem to want to do anything about it."

In the aftermath of the Colorado rampage, Hovland said the district, along with its board, should take such matters seriously.

With the investigation still pending, Acton Agua-Dulce school board president Jim Duzick said actions will be taken against those individuals found to be involved in what could have been a deadly situation.

According to Duzick, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies are still investigating who actually committed the prank and once those persons have been identified, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office may look at possible prosecution.

"We have no intention of letting this rest," Duzick said. "We will be taking action per legal advice."

Frustrated, Hovland said she's ready to take her kids out of the school because of the school's mentality in dealing with the situation.

"When parents try and stand up and do something about these types of situations, the district chooses to do nothing."

Talking with a deputy on the scene, Hovland said she was told that the students involved "were OK kids."

"I think especially after the Colorado incident that no kid be considered an OK kid because they're good looking. I'm sure people thought the same way about those two kids in Colorado before Tuesday."

Hovland added that with the recent Valley incidents, it's even more difficult to assign which kid is good and which is bad.

"You don't know which kid is going to be the one to go ballistic."

Kathy Wilmarth, whose grandchildren attend the high school, was in agreement.

On the scene as it unfolded, Wilmarth said she overheard a fire captain ask a school official if they had an evacuation plan, to which the official responded, "no."

"I want to know what the school is doing to protect our kids," Wilmarth said. "The kids involved in the prank are not suspended and when the school attempts to evacuate the students, it does it slowly and not according to proper procedure."

Wilmarth said students weren't evacuated right away and that when they were, they were directed to an area that was still in harm's way.

Wilmarth charges that the students who were helping to pinpoint the aggressors of the assault were told to shut up.

"I don't know what the district is doing," Wilmarth said.

Students and staff reported hearing an explosion around 10:30 a.m. and a teacher told school officials that smoke was coming out of one the campus' bathrooms.

After evacuating the school for four hours, emergency and hazardous materials crews cleaned up the mess.


Copycat threats in Valley spark six arrests
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press April 29, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


PALMDALE - A Wednesday arrest of a Highland High School student brought to six the number of local teenagers picked up by deputies for terrorist threats in the week since the mass killings at Columbine High School in Colorado.

So far, none of the threats have materialized into actual violence, but law enforcement and Valley school officials are not taking chances.

Two Quartz Hill High students were arrested Tuesday amid campus rumors and fears that they might have been planning a shooting rampage similar to the Colorado incident that left 15 dead. In the case of a third Quartz Hill youth, deputies this week seized a "practice grenade" from him, cited him and released him.

On Wednesday, a Highland High student was arrested after he allegedly threatened to bring a shotgun to school and shoot his fellow students.

That student was booked into Challenger Memorial Youth Center, on charges of making a terrorist threat. The case against him will be presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office for criminal filings.

The two unidentified Quartz Hill students were suspended from school and taken into custody Tuesday. According to Detective Steve Owens, the two youths are currently in a Sylmar Juvenile Detention Center, and up for expulsion.

All told, three students from Quartz Hill and three from Highland have been dealt with by authorities in the past week.

Last week, two students from Highland High School were arrested for allegedly making copycat threats similar to the Colorado shooting spree.

The first 17-year-old student reportedly told a female student he was going to go on a shooting rampage like the boys at Columbine High School and she would be the first to die.

A second student was arrested after making a threat during a first-period class where the Colorado shooting spree was being discussed.

At Quartz Hill High, rumors about the alleged shooting plans began to circulate around the school on Friday and continued into this week. By Tuesday, deputies along with school officials took extra precautions to ensure student safety.

"We're taking this very seriously," said Robert Girolamo, superintendent of the Antelope Valley Union High School District.

Girolamo said Tuesday that students are thinking that making copycat threats is a type of game.

"I think in their mind, they are playing a game, and the real sad part about it is it's a real tragedy where some young people got killed."

Hoping to address parental concerns on school safety, the district will have an open forum for all Quartz Hill High parents at 7:30 p.m. tonight, in the school's big gym. School and district officials along with Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies will address fears about the possibility of an incident similar to the killings of 12 students and a teacher by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who then turned their weapons on themselves.

According to Linda Solcich, a high school district spokeswoman here, tonight's forum is to answer questions as well as present the whole story behind the student arrests of recent days.

"We really want to give parents the straight story about what's going on because they're not getting it correctly from the Los Angeles news media," Solcich said.

Expanding beyond the school front, Solcich said two additional forums will be conducted in May to address concerns by the community at large.

On Tuesday May 11 at 7:30 p.m., there will be an open forum for the entire community at Lancaster High School.

Two days later, on Thursday, May 13, another forum will be at Highland High School - also at 7:30 p.m.

All three forums will be attended by school and district officials along with sheriff deputies from the Lancaster Sheriff Station.

"We'll be talking about school safety and what the community can do to work together," Solcich said.


Campus threats spur more action
1,000 parents pack high school's gym
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press April 30, 1999.

By Staci Haight
Valley Press Staff Writer


QUARTZ HILL - Tempers flared Thursday night as more than 1,000 concerned parents and students flocked to Quartz Hill High School's large gym to hear how school officials are addressing student safety on campus.

With bleachers filled to capacity and people lining the walls, parents pressed school and district officials to answer the question, "is our school safe?"

The meeting was called in response to a rash of copycat threats spurred by last week's mass shootings at a Colorado high school.

Hoping to calm fears, Quartz Hill High Principal Barbara Willibrand told parents, in spite of recent events, the Quartz Hill campus is indeed safe.

"This is a safe school; this is a safe district. We have security cameras on each of the campuses, a trained security force and deputies assigned to each of the high school," Willibrand said.

Willibrand added that the media has left half-truths spinning around and blown out of proportion recent campus rumors and events.

Despite repeated assurances, impatient, nervous and worried parents and students demanded the school take additional safety measures and reveal what measures have already been taken to ensure student safety.

Parent Debra Vega was adamant the school had not taken adequate safety measures, citing that she's been able to walk the school grounds unquestioned, despite what the school is calling a safe and secure campus.

"I'm able to walk freely on campus because they know me, but does that make it right?" Vega declared.

Parent Kathleen McVey said while the closed-campus school is boasting a safe environment, her daughter has been able to leave the grounds in the middle of the day unnoticed.

"If the school can't take care of the little things, then how are they going to take care of big things, should they occur?" McVey exclaimed.

One student, who was planning on attending today's Salute to Youth event, asked how the school is going to guarantee that buses to the event will be safe and secure.

Willibrand responded, "Extra deputies have been assigned, not that the school believes the rumors, but because we would like to take the necessary precautions to prevent any possible incident."

To date, six Antelope Valley Union High School District high school students have been arrested and about 20 others suspended for making threats or spreading rumors of threats on Valley campuses.


Officers tally six arrests; schools about 20 suspensions
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press April 30, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writers


LANCASTER - The rash of threats and rumors at Antelope Valley campuses triggered by the mass killing at a Colorado high school prompted more local campus security action Thursday, bringing six arrests and about 20 suspensions. School officials suspended a pair of Lancaster High School ninth-graders who wore backpacks with menacing letters and symbols, and who apparently joked about a rumor that the school would blow up today.

In addition to six arrests, school and law enforcement authorities say they've suspended about 20 students in the week since the slaughter at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

"We're not going to put up with threats," said Detective Steve Owens, the school liaison deputy assigned to the Lancaster Sheriff's Station.

"Yes, maybe we didn't find a kid with a bomb,` Owens said, "But if we hadn't made the arrest, would they have carried it to the next level and made the bomb? We are not going to take that chance."

Meanwhile, students and parents are expressing anxiety - with some students saying they plan to stay clear of school for awhile.

Antelope Valley deputies and school officials have faced a continuing barrage of rumors on Valley campuses since the rampage by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that slaughtered a dozen classmates and one teacher before the killers turned their guns on themselves.

Owens said his phone and phones at area high schools haven't stopped ringing, with parents and students reporting threats of potential bombings and shooting sprees.

The latest suspensions came as high school officials called an urgent Thursday night meeting at Quartz Hill High School to quell rumors and ease the fears of parents and students.

Robert Girolamo, superintendent of the Antelope Valley Union High School District, appealed for reason.

"We're going to run our schools," he said. "We've been on heightened alert, and will remain at that level."

Thursday, two Lancaster High freshmen were suspended after starting a rumor that their school was going to blow up today. Like the other threats, this one did not have any substance.

Three extra deputies have been assigned to help the seven deputies already assigned full time to the Valley's seven high schools, Owens said.

"I think the kids are genuinely scared," Owens said, adding that some immature students are preying on classmates' fears by spreading rumors.

Lancaster High Assistant Principal Gil Lara said in his 18 years as an educator, he has never seen students and parents as upset as they have been in the last week.

He said three students went home in tears Thursday after learning about the ninth-graders' rumored threat to blow up Lancaster High, adding that other students have said they won't come to school today.

"All my friends are scared to death," said Lancaster High senior Angela Mendez. "They do not want to go to school. You have these immature kids who don't know anything, and they only get suspended. I'm taking this seriously. They should be expelled, locked up, something."

Susan Bockhaus, Angela's mother, said she's hoping the school district takes the wave of unrest seriously, but she believes much of the responsibility for controlling children lies with parents.

She said her own home is filled with young people who lack someone to talk to.

"So many kids I talk to because they don't have anyone else," Bockhaus said. "These are basically good kids whose parents don't have time for them."

Lara gave few details about the two Lancaster High ninth-graders, but did say they were suspended for inciting unrest among students, and for having graffiti - which Lara described as letters, symbols and numbers on their backpacks.

"They wanted the school closed," Lara said. "They wanted a day off. The threats weren't real. I would say they didn't realize the full consequences of their actions. The words just rolled off the tips of their tongues."

Once Lancaster High officials learned of the suspension, Lara addressed the school on the public address system, reassuring students and teachers that there was no substance to the rumor.

Wild speculation continues to spread across area high schools, with reports Thursday of bombings planned at Highland and Palmdale high schools.

Palmdale High freshman Stephanie Zitkus said she and 50 of her classmates will skip school today, even though their principal has reassured them the campus is safe.

School officials say they are doing their best to cope with copycat threats and return their campuses to a state of normalcy.

"We just hope the situation passes as rapidly as possible," said Kevin Carney, an Antelope Valley Union High School District board member and Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeant. "We hope the kids making the threats come to their senses."


Rumours abound; attendance plummets
Authorities urge calm, press enforcement efforts
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press May 1, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writers


PALMDALE - Across the Antelope Valley, many parents took their children out of school amid a rash of unfounded rumors that a massive attack would befall area high schools on Friday. Similar incidents occurred nationwide.

Since the deadly shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., more than a week ago, Valley high schools sustained a rash of bomb threats and copycat rumors that made many parents afraid to send their children to school. None of the threats materialized.

Still, the threats have prompted a score of arrests and dozens of actions like suspension and pending expulsions.

Attendance at high schools across the Valley was "abnormally low" Friday, said school spokeswoman Linda Solcich. She estimated about 70%, instead of the normal 90%. At some campuses, attendance dropped to the 50% mark, officials said.

Still, in some cases, an atmosphere of normalcy prevailed. For example, nearly 3,000 students safely attended a career day at Air Force Plant 42 on Friday.

Nevertheless, fear tried to impose itself on Valley schools.

At a meeting on Thursday night at Quartz Hill High School, administrators responded to the questions, fears and worries of more than 1,000 parents and students.

Principal Barbara Willibrand repeatedly told the assembly gathered that Quartz Hill High was indeed safe, and that other district campuses are safe.

On Friday, those assurances provided little comfort to many parents as they drove up in numbers to sign out their students.

"I brought my son back to school today even though I was frightened to do so," said Ramona Boudreaux, whose 17-year-old son is a Quartz Hill senior.

Boudreaux said it was Willibrand's assurances that the school was safe that made her want to support the school.

However, Boudreaux's support turned to criticism after she returned to the campus to discover limited security in the back areas of the school.

"My son called to ask that I bring him a sleeping bag for a trip he was going on," Boudreaux said.

Parking on a side street, Boudreaux said she watched as her son easily left the "so-called" secured campus to retrieve the bag and re-enter the campus.

"He was totally unchallenged," Boudreaux said. "It disturbed me because at the meeting the night before, I listened to all their hype, and to have an incident like this happen went against everything the administration was preaching."

Boudreaux said she already took one son out of school prior to the mass killings at Columbine High School on April 20. "I'm not happy," she said.

Joining the unease about school safety, Littlerock High School parent Yvette Polar said a phone call from her daughter prompted fears for her safety.

"My daughter called the first time and said she wasn't scared, but then five minutes later, called again and told me to come get her now," Polar said.

According to Polar, her daughter said it was rumored that a bomb was to explode at the beginning of sixth period.

"I was hell-bent on getting my kid out of there because she's not the type to call unless she was truly scared," Polar said.

Littlerock High School was among many high schools experiencing attendance problems.

Though exact numbers were not available at press time, spokeswoman Solcich said attendance was abnormally low for Friday. With numbers still coming in, Solcich estimated that approximately 70% of the more than 16,000 students district-wide attended classes.

At Lancaster High School, Assistant Principal Gilbert Lara said attendance at his campus was "unusually low."

"I had about 10 parents visit the school, looking for assurances that the campus was safe," Lara said. "Of those 10, five chose to take their children home."

According to Lara, parents were looking for 100% guarantees .

"We can't give them 100%, but we can tell them we are doing everything to ensure that their students are in a safe environment," Lara said.

At Highland High School, assistant principal Brett Neal also said attendance was lower than normal.

Neal said parents signed out their children because they heard rumors something bad would happen because supposedly Friday marked the anniversary of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's suicide.

"This isn't only a district-wide problem," Neal said. "It's happening all over the nation with threats about violence and bombs."

Palmdale sheriff's Capt. Joe Hladky said some students are exploiting panic just to dodge a few classes, but that all threats must be taken seriously.

With extra security on campus, including security personnel equipped with metal detectors stationed at each of the campus' entrances, Neal said all threats - even so-called jokes - will be taken seriously.

"If students are going to play this game and joke around, they should be aware that they will be suspended and possibly expelled."

Already the school has suspended eight youths for a variety of offenses, including making threats against other students, talking about bombing the school and making jokes about the Colorado shooting spree.

"Of the eight suspended, we are recommending that five of them be expelled," Neal said.

So far, campus security at Highland High School and Quartz Hill High School have arrested six students for terrorist threats. Throughout the district, 20 students have been suspended for a variety of offenses from harming another student to allegedly planning an attack.

At Antelope Valley High School, principal Mark Bryant said there are similar problems at his campus, though not to the extent of the other high schools.


Student arrested after bomb threat
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press May 1, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


ROSAMOND - A 15-year-old Rare Earth Continuation High School student was arrested Friday and booked into Kern County's juvenile hall for what officials understood to be a threat to blow up his school.

Kern County Sheriff's deputies arrested the boy at the Glendower Street campus after a teacher reported receiving what was believed to be a bomb threat on the back of a homework assignment.

It showed a hand-drawn map of the campus and five circles indicating locations for bombs, said Deputy Rick Price of the Rosamond station. Price handled the investigation and the arrest. The student's name has not been released because he is not 18 years old.

Rare Earth is the Southern Kern Unified School District's alternative high school. Students attend Rare Earth for a variety of reasons, district officials said. Some may have academic problems; others, attendance problems. But none of the students have records of violence or have been expelled. Students who are expelled from the district attend a countyrun high school in Mojave.

Price said the student in custody claimed it was a classmate who wrote the word "bomb" on the back of the homework paper. Price also said the word "bomb" was crossed out at the time the paper was handed in.

"A lot of the threats we're hearing about in California and across the country are from kids who think it's a joke," said Christine Hoffman, who as superintendent of the Southern Kern Unified School District oversees Rare Earth and five other schools. "The message we're sending is they will face the consequences for making threats. It is not a joke to us. We will take the discipline on this matter as far as we can."

That could include expulsion, Hoffman said.

The arrest comes four days after a bomb threat was phoned in to Rosamond High School at about 3:15 p.m. Monday.

Deputy Price said the campus was evacuated and searched, but no bomb or any other suspicious items were found. No arrest has been made in connection with that threat, Price said.

Threats of school violence have also been logged in Mojave and at Edwards Air Force Base, officials said. Arrests were not made in those instances, however.

Sgt. Steve Hansen of the Mojave and Boron station of the Kern County Sheriff's Department said one was at Desert High School on Edwards Air Force Base, where a student reportedly threatened some other students who picked on him. Investigation showed no substantial evidence the student could carry out any threat, Hansen said.

The other incident was at Mojave High School, where a student complaining about a homework assignment reportedly told a teacher, "If you think what happened in Colorado can only happen in Colorado, you're crazy."

Mojave High School Assistant Principal Sal Frias, who oversees discipline issues for the Mojave Unified School District, said there have been some inappropriate comments made in jest, but nobody has said anything about killing anyone or blowing anything up.

"We made calls to parents; they got involved and solved the problem," Frias said. "We have a metal detector and it's very visible. No weapons are getting onto campus."


Quartz Hill students arraigned
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press May 1, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


SYLMAR - Two Quartz Hill High School freshmen who allegedly concocted instructions on how to make bombs and maps of their campus were arraigned Friday on felony charges of making terrorist threats.

Four students from Antelope Valley area high schools have been charged this week with making terrorist threats in the wake of last week's massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.

A fifth student faces a misdemeanor charge of creating a public disturbance.

The two Quartz Hill High boys denied the petitions, or charges, said District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons. In Juvenile Court, defendants don't plead guilty or not guilty. Instead, they deny or admit to the petition.

The boys, ages 14 and 15, remain in custody. The 15-year-old is also charged with attempting to dissuade a witness from testifying.

A 16-year-old boy was arraigned Monday on a felony charge of making a terrorist threat. Gibbons believes the boy is a Highland High School student.

A felony charge of making a terrorist threat was filed Friday against a 17-year-old Highland High student. Gibbons said the boy will be arraigned on Monday. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of willfully creating a disturbance at a public school.

The 16-year-old and 17-year-old remain in custody.

Additionally, Gibbons said a 17year-old boy from an area high school has been charged with a misdemeanor count of disturbing the peace.

The teen was arraigned Wednesday and he denied the petition. Gibbons is not sure if the teen remains in custody.

The boys charged with felony terrorist threats could be sent to the California Youth Authority if the petitions against them are sustained.

In Juvenile Court, a petition, or charge, is either sustained or not sustained against a defendant.


Handgun found on 11-year-old boy at school
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press May 7, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer

LAKE LOS ANGELES - An 11-year-old Wilsona Elementary School student and his mother were arrested Thursday after the boy brought a loaded .25-caliber handgun to school, allegedly to hurt a female student.

The arrest was prompted by an alert teacher who searched the unidentified boy Thursday morning after learning he threatened a girl in his class.

The boy reportedly brought the loaded gun to school in his backpack. When the teacher searched him, she discovered it in his pocket.

The boy was arrested at about 10 a.m. and taken to the Lancaster Sheriff's Station. When deputies questioned him, he said he found the gun on the kitchen floor at his house.

The boy was booked for allegedly possessing a loaded firearm on school grounds and terrorist threats. Both crimes are felonies. He was taken to Challenger Memorial Youth Center.

Los Angles County Sheriff's deputies then went to tell Julie De La Cruz, 34, what her son did.

Deputies reported that they found her house, on the 15800 block of East Newmont Street, in squalid condition. The unsanitary conditions included piles of human vomit and animal feces strewn about the house. Deputies also reported that they found methamphetamine use paraphernalia, but no drugs.

There were two dogs and an unknown number of cats around the house. De La Cruz had four other children in the house, ranging in age from 13 months to 4 years. When deputies arrived, they found the 13-month-old crawling on the floor within three feet of a large pile of animal feces.

De La Cruz was arrested for alleged child endangerment and was taken to the Lancaster Sheriff's Station.

"We could have arrested her for child endangerment without the gun because of the state of the house," said Deputy Steve Owen.

Child endangerment is a felony and De La Cruz was held in lieu of $50,000 bail. Her four other children were removed from the home by the Department of Children's Services and placed in protective custody.

De La Cruz' husband reportedly travels for work and was out of town. Deputies were told he had been gone for about a month and was due to return soon.


Student on probation over bomb threat plot
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press June 11, 1999.
Valley Press Staff Writer


LANCASTER - A Quartz Hill High School freshman has been sentenced to home probation after admitting he plotted with a classmate to make bombs and maps showing placement of the devices on the campus.
Antelope Valley Juvenile Court Judge Chesley McKay made the ruling Wednesday. The boy, whose name was not released because he is a juvenile, will remain on home probation until he is 21 years old or officials deem he has completed his sentence.

The 14-year-old boy and a 15year-old classmate were arrested April 27 after someone tipped off authorities that the two had talked about killing fellow students.

A third Quartz Hill student was arrested for having an inert grenade.

The arrests came in the wake of the April 20 massacre at Colorado's Columbine High School where two teenagers killed a dozen fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves.

But there were time bombs ticking in the Antelope Valley before Columbine. In the case of the 14year-old Quartz Hill freshman sentenced Wednesday, his threat to blow up his school came on March 21, nearly a month before the Columbine massacre, a District Attorney's Office spokeswoman said.

The 14-year-old boy had a map of the high school, showing where bombs could be placed.

He and his 15-year-old classmate were charged with one felony count each of making a terrorist threat.

In the aftermath of the Colorado killing spree, Antelope Valley schools, like those across the country, were gripped by rumors of massive attacks and killing sprees.

At the height of the hysteria, attendance at Valley schools dropped by 50%. Some students would leave school in tears after hearing the latest rumor of copycat threats.

In the Antelope Valley, all rumors turned out be unfounded, but authorities took no chances. School officials held meetings to reassure anxious parents and worried students and the Sheriff's Department beefed up security on the Antelope Valley Union High School District's seven campuses.

For a while, it seemed as if no one was immune from the panic.

On April 30, more than 1,000 parents and their children packed Quartz Hill High School to listen to school administrators reassure them that the campus was safe.

But those assurances provided little comfort to parents as they stampeded to sign their children out of school.

Authorities also cracked down on students who even made the slightest joke about Columbine. By late April, six students had been arrested and 20 had been suspended, most for making copycat threats.

"We're not going to put up with threats," Detective Steve Owens said in April. Owens is the school liaison deputy assigned to the Lancaster Sheriff's Station.

"Yes, maybe we didn't find a kid with a bomb," Owens said, "But if we hadn't made the arrest, would they have carried it to the next level and made the bomb? We are not going to take that chance."

The 15-year-old's case was resolved on May 12, the D.A. spokeswoman said. He was released to his parents and will be back in court Nov. 12 for a progress report.


11-year-old admits to gun at school
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press June 12, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


LANCASTER - An 11-yearold Lake Los Angeles boy admitted Friday to bringing a loaded .25caliber handgun to Wilsona Elementary School in May and threatening two students. Antelope Valley Juvenile Court Judge Chesley McKay ordered the Probation Department to find a "suitable placement" for the boy, which could mean living in a foster home, a group home or with a relative.

The boy, who has been in juvenile custody since his May 6 arrest, will not be returned to his mother's home anytime soon. When sheriff's deputies visited the boy's home on May 6, they found it in squalid condition.

Human vomit and animal feces were strewn about; deputies also found evidence of methamphetamine use.

Deputies arrested the boy's mother, Julie De La Cruz, 34, on suspicion of child endangerment. When questioned by deputies, the boy said he found the loaded gun on the kitchen floor.

De La Cruz had four other children in the house, ranging in ages from 13 months to 4 years. Department of Family and Children Services social workers removed them and placed them in protective custody.

Wilsona Elementary School officials called the sheriff's department on May 6 after a teacher, learning the boy had threatened two students, searched him and found the handgun.

After detaining the boy, the deputies then drove to his home on the 15800 block of East Newmont Street.


District seeks sources for school funds
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press November 13, 1999.
Valley Press Staff Writer

LANCASTER - The Nov. 2 rejection of a $91 million bond measure to build new classrooms and refurbish old ones puts the high school district in position to play hardball with housing developers.

It also could force the district to establish double-session days or year-round classes for students attending the seven high schools in the Antelope Valley, or to attempt to renegotiate the split of local school-impact fees, board of trustees Vice President Bill Olenick said.

"Nothing is off the table. We have to look at everything," Olenick said.

Because voters rejected Measure E, the Antelope Valley Union High School District can appeal to the state for hardship status, district Superintendent Robert Girolamo said.

If that status is granted, it will give the district the power to negotiate increased school-impact fees from developers, commonly those proposing large housing tracts, Girolamo said.

If developers balk at paying higher fees for building the schools for which their projects create a demand, the high school district can withhold its approval, he said. "If we don't sign off, the project stops."

At the moment, no new large developments are on the horizon, Girolamo said.

School mitigation agreements already are in place with the developers of the pending Ritter Ranch and City Ranch projects, he said.

A project that could be affected is the master-planned community of Rancho Vista, the builder of which is R. Gregg Anderson.

Anderson also was one of the biggest proponents of the passage of Measure E.

Reached Wednesday, Anderson said the possible fee increase had nothing to do with his support of the bond measure.

His Rancho Vista Development Co. "only has a few lots around the golf course" where new homes are planned, he said. The bulk of the development's lots have been sold to other developers.

His firm already had spent more to get Measure E passed than it would have spent paying the increased development fees, he said.

"If our fees would go up, it's not a big deal," Anderson said. "It's much better for the building community to maintain the school facilities than to not have it done.

"But if (the school districts) can't provide the education facilities, that hurts us," because buyers do not want homes where schools are substandard, he said.

"There's no self-serving motive here," Anderson said. "Good schools are dammed good for us as builders and dammed good for us as developers."

If the state were to grant hardship status to AVUHSD, the district could apply for special funds that could be used to establish new temporary classrooms, Olenick said.

But the line of districts seeking that money "is a mile long in Sacramento," he said.

Another option under consideration is changing the way local developer fees are split between the high school district and local elementary school districts, Olenick continued.

At present, 26% of those fees go to the high school district and 74% go to the local elementary districts, he said.

Although "it may go over like a lead balloon," Olenick said he intends to negotiate with the Lancaster, Westside and Eastside elementary districts "to see if we can get a higher percentage" of the fees.

Since each of those districts have successfully passed bond measures in the recent past, "I'd like to sit down and at least discuss the fact that our needs (at the high school level) are possibly greater than theirs and see if we can't get a temporary waiver and get an increase on our end of that split," he said.

Every option should be viewed as a possible remedy to ease high school overcrowding, he said.

Administrators at the Lancaster and Eastside districts could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Lori Ordway-Peck, assistant superintendent of business services for the Westside district, said only board members could decide whether to part with - or even consider whether to discuss parting with - a portion of the revenue the district receives from local development.

"There is no way I can presuppose what they might do," Ordway-Peck said.

Double-sessions would have some high school students attending classes from early morning to early afternoon and others attending from early afternoon to early evening, Olenick said.

Year-round sessions would stagger classes through the calendar year instead of having local campuses close during the summer months, he said.

To date, those proposals have drawn "little to no interest," he said.

The preferred option is Proposition 26, a ballot initiative that would allow school-construction bond measures to pass with the approval just over 50% of the voters instead of 67%, Olenick said.

If the proposition is approved by voters on March 7, another high school bond measure could be on local ballots as soon as July, though it would be cheaper to put it on the general election ballot in November, he said.

The AVUHSD board is expected to consider a resolution supporting placement of the proposition on the March ballot by the Legislature, Olenick said.

Placement also will be supported by developers, Anderson said.

"The building industry is going to be lobbying hard in Sacramento supporting Proposition 26," he said.

State legislators may balk at the initiative because "it changes something that has been in existence for a long time," Girolamo said, referring to the two-thirds majority now needed for bond measures.

Antelope Valley Assemblyman George Runner said the Legislature has no say in whether the measure appears on the ballot.

"The special interests went ahead and did the initiative process and got it placed on the ballot in March," Runner said. "They bypassed the Legislature because the Legislature had dealt with it before," opting to reject similar proposals to reduce the number of votes needed for bond issues.

If Proposition 26 is approved, "I believe it will be the beginning of the unraveling of Proposition 13, and I think voters will once again react to that," the Assemblyman said.

Now part of the state Constitution, Proposition 13 was approved by California voters in 1978 as a means of holding down increases in property taxes.

While not subject to a Legislative vote, "I am going to oppose Proposition 26," Runner said. "I believe that the two-thirds vote requirement is an important protection for property owners."

Although Proposition 26 was placed on the ballot through the efforts of the California Teachers Association, "The traditional building industry has always supported a reduction of the twothirds vote because if a local area does not pass a bond, a greater responsibility for the schools has to be borne by the developers," the Assemblyman said. "They have an economic interest at stake in seeing it changed to a simple majority."

A simple majority also is all that is needed to approve the change.

Although such efforts have failed in the past, "The polling I have seen has said (the vote) will be very close" on Proposition 26, Runner said.

With the Legislature out of the decision-making process, "The election is going to be in the trenches, now," he said.

State Sen. William J. "Pete" Knight, who also represents the Antelope Valley, said he has no position on the issue.

It was his intention to look at that measure as well as about 20 others that are expected to be on the March ballot before announcing his stands, Knight said.

His concern was that Proposition 26 might conflict with other laws that regulate the enactment of taxes, he said.

Overcrowded High Schools

Antelope Valley High School
built for 1,300 students
enrollment: 2,300

Highland High School
built for 2,000
enrollment: past 2,500

Lancaster High School
built for 2,000
enrollment: 2,520

Littlerock High School
built for 2,000
enrollment: past 2,500

Palmdale High School
built for 1,300
enrollment: 3,260

Quartz Hill High School
built for 1,300
enrollment: 2,960


Teen held in attempted murder, rape of teachers

A 15-year-old Antelope Valley High School student is being held at Sylmar Juvenile Hall on charges that he attempted to rape a disabled teacher and tried to kill another teacher. Valley Press Staff Writer Staci Haight reports.

Teen held in attempted murder, rape of teachers
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press April 1, 2000.

Valley Press Staff Writer

LANCASTER - A 15-year-old Antelope Valley High School student is being held at Sylmar Juvenile Hall on charges that he attempted to rape a disabled teacher and tried to kill another teacher.
The unidentified student was taken into custody at 4:45 p.m. Monday by Lancaster sheriff's deputies after authorities found him hiding on school grounds, investigators said.

Detective Steve Owen of the Lancaster Sheriff's Station said Friday that the 15-year-old tried to strangle and suffocate English teacher Nancy Chalfant on Monday after school.

Three days earlier, the student allegedly tried to rape a disabled teacher at the school, Owen said. The teacher did not report the alleged assault until after the attack on Chalfant, Owen said.

The 15-year-old was booked and charged with attempted murder and attempted rape. Owen said that it is likely the 15-year-old will be tried as an adult.

Owen said the student went into Chalfant's classroom Monday and proceeded to ask her "a lot of questions." The student then allegedly hit Chalfant numerous times on the head with a large, heavy book, Owen said.

"After he hit her with a book, he tried to choke, strangle and suffocate her," Owen said. "It was a janitor who happened to walk in and was able to stop the assault."

Chalfant was taken to a local hospital for observation and was released later that day.

The attack on Chalfant came three days after a March 24 attempted rape of a disabled teacher by the same student, investigators said.

Owen said the student went into the teacher's classroom after school March 24 and, as in the incident with Chalfant, asked "a lot of questions."

"He then tried to rape her but she was able calm him down by being very vocal," Owen said. "He made a statement to her that he had sexual feelings and wanted to touch her private parts."

Principal Mark Bryant said Friday that when he talked to the student after the Monday incident, he was told that the boy "didn't know why he did it."

As for Chalfant, Bryant said she took the remainder of the week off to recuperate and that when he last talked to her on Thursday she was doing fine.

"Right now, the student has been suspended and he could be up for expulsion," Bryant said.

Bryant said the boy had no serious behavioral problems prior to the alleged assaults against the two teachers.

"Nothing like this," Bryant said. "Just a fight with another student.

"This is very unusual," Bryant added.

Antelope Valley High School is the Antelope Valley Union High School District's oldest campus and serves a student population of more than 2,000 students in grades nine through 12.


True court adventures of the cheerleader-headlockin' mom

The mother accused of backing up her daughter in a tussle with a cheerleader at Lancaster High School told a judge Friday she didn't do anything wrong. Valley Press Staff Writer Alan Schnepf reports.

True court adventures of the cheerleader-headlockin' mom
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press April 1, 2000.

Valley Press Staff Writer

LANCASTER - The mother accused of backing up her daughter in a tussle with a cheerleader at Lancaster High School told a judge Friday she didn't do anything wrong.
Julia Arburtha, 37, is charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, disturbing the peace on a school campus and unlawful entry to a school campus.

Authorities say Arburtha went to Lancaster High Feb. 29 and encouraged her 14-year-old daughter to fight a cheerleader, also 14, with whom the daughter allegedly had an ongoing feud.

Then, say some witnesses, Arburtha herself entered the fray and put a headlock on the cheerleader.

"Strike me down, as God is my witness, I did not hit this girl," Arburtha said after her brief court appearance, which was rescheduled for May 1. She said, rather, that the witnesses who say she instigated or escalated the fight are lying on behalf of the cheerleader.

Although that appearance was brief, Arburtha became upset when she learned a photographer had been granted access to the court to take her photo. When her case was called, she walked toward the front of the courtroom carrying a newspaper over her face. A bailiff told her to put the paper down at least twice before she complied.

After a short formal proceeding to set another date for the matter, she was instructed to take a seat in the front area of the courtroom while the date was finalized.

It was then that she grabbed some papers off the bailiff's desk and used them to again shield her face from a camera.

After leaving court, a tear rolled down her cheek as she sat on a bench and excitedly explained how her trip through the judicial process is unwarranted, unfair and humiliating.

She admitted that she did not register when she came onto the campus the day of the fight, but said there are many parents who do the same when they go to the high school to see their kids.

Investigators say Arburtha was dressed similarly to other Lancaster High School students, in red and blue, which may have helped her blend in on the campus. But Arburtha says she was wearing a gray sweatsuit.

On that day, Arburtha says she went to Lancaster High to drop off lunch money for her daughter and to visit the principal about problems her daughter had with the cheerleader.

As she walked with her 14year-old and another of her daughters, Arburtha says she asked the 14-year-old to point out the cheerleader, which her daughter did, Arbutha said.

But instead of egging on a brawl, as some witnesses have said, Arburtha says she gently tried to mediate the bad blood between the cheerleader and her daughter.

Her attempt at peaceful mediation was promptly rebuffed, she said.

"She (the cheerleader) told me it was none of my business," Arburtha said. "That's when she dropped her backpack and said `We can get it on right here.' "

A fight ensued, and depending on who is telling the story, Arburtha either tried to break it up or joined in on her daughter's side.

"I wasn't on my daughter's side, I wasn't on her (the cheerleader's) side," Arburtha said. "Fighting's wrong."

One account of the incident has Arburtha putting her daughter's nemesis in a headlock.

Arburtha said she's not sure if the headlock really happened. She says she grabbed the cheerleader's body to pull her off of her daughter. Her hold may have slipped up the cheerleader's body toward her head. But in any case, if there was a headlock, it wasn't intentional, Arburtha said.

Headlock or no headlock, Arburtha said she has done nothing wrong and plans to plead not guilty at her next court appearance.

"I'm going to fight this because I'm innocent."