Cabrillo High School’s campus was occupied by far fewer students — and significantly more armed officers — than usual Friday, a day after the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office investigated a potential threat at the school.
Lompoc Unified School District and Sheriff’s Office officials revealed late Thursday night that security at the Vandenberg Village campus, as well as at nearby Maple High School and at Lompoc High School, would be increased Friday after some month-old social media posts by a pair of Cabrillo students had raised concerns among other students, staff and parents.
Although investigators concluded that the posts did not pose any threats, many parents and students seemed unwilling to take any chances — likely influenced by the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead.
About 800 students, or 40 percent of Cabrillo’s total enrollment, did not attend school Friday. That coincided with a tenfold increase in the number of law enforcement officers at the school, which went from just one on a normal day to 10 on Friday.
While there were no incidents reported Friday from any LUSD campuses, tensions remained high among at least some of the students who showed up for classes at Cabrillo.
Sheriff’s Office Lt. Eddie Hsueh (pronounced “Shway”), who also serves as the chief of police for Solvang and Buellton, said he and the other sheriff’s officers at the school Friday spent a lot of time interacting with students and noticed a wide range of concern levels.
“There’s some students that are scared and that are sad, and there’s other students who are just like, ‘Yeah, this is another prank. This happened last year and it happens all the time,’” he said. “So there’s varying degrees of concern at the school, and it’s the same thing with the parents.”
The concerns at Cabrillo seemingly first began to skyrocket Thursday when Sheriff’s Office investigators spent much of the day looking into the alleged threats, which were reportedly made a month ago via Instagram direct messages between two male students.
The students were identified and had their homes searched, and about 100 other students were interviewed before sheriff’s deputies concluded the posts did not pose a threat. The Sheriff’s Office also reported that it looked into rumors of an alleged hit list and a threatening Snapchat post before determining that those, too, lacked credibility.
“It’s a social media epidemic, I like to say,” Hsueh said. “You have these kids that see these horrible events in other areas of the country and then some of them think it’s fun to go get on social media and text messaging or Snapchat or Facebook and say remarks that insinuate there’s gonna be a shooting.”
Hsueh commended those students and parents who reached out to law enforcement with their concerns and said he was hopeful that more people would do the same instead of turning to social media, where rumors can run wild.
He likened the spread — and distortion — of gossip on social media to the popular Telephone children’s game, in which a message is passed from person to person and is usually completely different by the time it reaches the final listener.
“You have these types of pranks that start, and by the time it gets through hundreds of people, it turns into, ‘Hey, there’s gonna be a shooting on campus,’” Hsueh said. “So, you have people who are panicked and scared, and these kids don’t really realize the consequences when they do these things. They need to act a lot more responsibly when they see these things happening in other parts of the country, because it’s horrific and it’s painful to everybody.
“Kids will be kids,” he added, “but there needs to be some training, in my opinion — and we’re gonna work on that, too — about the consequences of what happens when you start posting these various things on social media.”
Focus on safety
Following the investigations Thursday, LUSD sent a message late that night to students and parents. The message briefly summarized the investigation and noted that the threats were found to be “not credible.”
The message concluded with: “Nevertheless we are taking additional precautions on Friday at both high schools, including additional law enforcement officers, on to keep students safe.”
While much of the increased law enforcement Friday was at Cabrillo, two of the sheriff’s deputies there also split time at the Maple High campus, which is less than 2 miles away from Cabrillo, and four additional Lompoc Police Department officers patrolled Lompoc High School.
While attendance did not seem to be dramatically affected at Lompoc or Maple high schools, the lack of students at Cabrillo was immediately noticeable just by looking at the school’s mostly empty student parking lot.
Hsueh said that was an unfortunate sign of the times.
“You’ve got a couple kids whose (actions) caused all this,” he said. “But, we take things very seriously because we don’t want to say, ‘Oh it’s a prank,’ and then have something happen. So we have 10 highly trained, well-armed deputies that are prepared to protect these kids.”
The issues Friday wrapped up a particularly tumultuous week for LUSD.
On Thursday, the same day the social media threats were investigated, a school bus carrying students from Cabrillo High School was reportedly shot with a BB or pellet gun. No students were reported to be injured from that incident, which came a day after sheriff’s deputies were called to another LUSD bus to investigate a “suspicious object” that was later determined to not be harmful.
Outside of those incidents, several schools within the district have held “emergency” or “active shooter/lockdown” drills over the past two weeks, which have been dominated by a national conversation about school safety following the Valentine's Day shooting in Florida.
Hsueh noted that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office employs significantly fewer school resource officers than it has in years past. While one resource officer serves Cabrillo and Maple high schools, he said the position has been eliminated in other areas, like the Santa Ynez Valley, or seriously reduced in other areas, like South County, which has just one, he said.
“I would love to see us get a couple more school resource deputies. I think that’s important and I think that, especially in this climate, we’ve got to protect our kids.”
It is likely that the law enforcement presence at the Lompoc-area campuses will drop back to normal Monday, but that hadn’t been officially determined as of Friday evening.
John Karbula, an assistant superintendent and spokesperson for LUSD, said that it would be up to the law enforcement agencies to determine if increased protection will remain necessary into Monday. Hsueh said the Sheriff’s Office would review the situation and confer with LUSD before making a decision.
“We know that we’ve isolated where everything came from (in the Cabrillo incident) and we’ve had houses that were searched and we eliminated the threat from there, so we’re quite certain that it’s safe and that the kids are safe,” he said. “But, we want to make sure. So, if the school district wants us to increase (our presence) further, then we’ll evaluate that and do what needs to be done.”