Rumors prompt extra protection at Wasco schools

WASCO, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Two schools in Wasco got extra security on Monday in response to rumors of possible shooting threats. At Wasco High School, the rumors popped up on Facebook, and it was a tip to the Kern County Sheriff's office that prompted quick action at Palm Avenue Elementary. By the end of the day there had been no problems, but a number of parents had pulled their kids out of the schools.

"We didn't want to take any chance," Karon Downing told Eyewitness News. She was at Palm Avenue to pick up her granddaughter from Kindergarten. "My daughter wanted me to pick her up just make sure there's nothing to it."

Kern County Sheriff spokesman Ray Pruitt said a tip came to their office at about 9:30 Monday morning. "There was going to be retaliation toward family members of one of the individuals involved in one of the homicides that has recently occurred in Wasco," he explained. Pruitt said the tip indicated the targeted family member attends the elementary school.

The sheriff's spokesman said officers started to investigate, and contacted the school. Wasco Elementary School District assistant superintendent Susan Andreas-Bervel told Eyewitness News Palm Avenue was put on lock-down for 50 minutes, and that was lifted when officers said they found no confirmation of the threat.

Meanwhile down the street, school officials at Wasco High were getting calls from worried parents who heard there was a threat involving their campus.

"We're having some rumors on Facebook about a rumored shooting, a drive-by shooting," Principal Joe Elwood told Eyewitness News. "All it is, is a rumored shooting." Administrators called the sheriff's department, and officers started another investigation into that situation.

"We were never able to speak to anybody who saw the Facebook posting." Pruitt said. He said all reports about the threat were second- or third-hand.

Elwood estimated about 100 students were pulled from Wasco High by their parents, but he believed the campus was safe. "Classroom safety, student safety, is the biggest, most important thing we do," he said. "Followed by learning."

At Palm Avenue, school officials couldn't give figures on how many students may have been picked up by parents.

At each school, the sheriff's department had put at deputy at the campus and had extra patrols in the area.

The sight of the officer gave the grandmother at Palm Avenue Elementary some reassurance. "That makes me feel really good," Downing said. She was also glad to hear the investigation had turned up nothing about the tip.

In McFarland, Eyewitness News learned that police department also had extra law enforcement near that community's high school.

For the sheriff's department, Pruitt says the response is important. "We want the community to feel safe," he said. "We want to alleviate fears of the community and the parents."

And, the sheriff's department says they still have an active investigation going regarding the information that came in about Palm Avenue Elementary School.

"We are following up on that information about that tip that came in," Pruitt said. He said there have been two recent homicides in Wasco, but he wouldn't say which case was linked to the threat by the tip. "We're still trying to determine where this information came from regarding the potential threat against the family members."

Pruitt said they have no indication the two incidents are linked, and they have no confirmation of the threats. "It appears that they're just two random events," he said. "It doesn't appear that there's any relationship between the two incidents that we've been able to determine at this point."