Jennie Laney was at work on Tuesday afternoon when she received a text message no parent ever wants to see. Her daughter, a sophomore at Turlock High School, told her there were reports of an active shooter on campus and that school staff told them one thing: Run.
“I’m hiding,” Laney’s daughter texted her, and within seconds the frightened mother and a colleague were in the car, rushing toward the high school campus just a few blocks away.
“Instant terror. I needed to get to her. I needed to be there to save her,” Laney said. “I can’t really describe it, honestly. My heart was in my stomach, and I was like, ‘This can’t be happening.’”
At the same time, Turlock Police Department Chief Nino Amirfar was right next to campus when the report of an active shooter came in. School Resource Officer Matt Ulrich let dispatch know that reports of a shooter came through a school radio, and that he had initiated lockdown procedures.
Amirfar was first on the scene and was met with chaos as students ran from the campus.
“Is there a shooter? Is there a shooter?” he asked each student that ran by. Most of them said they hadn’t seen a shooter, but heard “lockdown” and ran from the potential threat.
The reports came as students were eating lunch and many were ushered into the gymnasium to go on lockdown while every single TPD officer — including detectives — responded to the scene, flanked by deputies from the Sheriff’s Department, officers from Stanislaus State and even a SWAT team.
Parents stood by the dozens just outside of campus, many on cell phones attempting to reach their children, with tears in their eyes as law enforcement officers slowly cleared the campus with their guns drawn. It was eventually determined that the reports of shots fired blurted out over the school radio were false — either a mistake, or a cruel hoax.
“At this time, we don’t have enough information to go and find out who made the call, but I do believe it was a hoax. Someone may have gotten a hold of a school radio and blared it out over the radio,” Amirfar said. “Being responsible (for the false alarm) and being irresponsible is saddening, especially when you have a young adult that may have done it. But at this point, we don’t know.”
In 2019 alone, there have been 17 school shootings with injuries or deaths, according to edweek.org. Turlock Unified School District has an active shooter protocol in place and responded to the threat promptly, placing nearby Julien Elementary School, Dutcher Middle School, eCademy Charter at Crane and On Track on lockdown as well.
The reports came just days after THS students lost a fellow classmate, Kaden Farro, in an ATV accident over the weekend.
“They’re 15, 16. These kids are already dealing with the loss of a dear friend...they should not be dealing with this right after,” Laney said. “I know my daughter is okay, but I keep going back to the terror she must have felt in that moment.”
When faced with an active shooter threat, TUSD campuses follow a clear set of rules: lock and secure all doors and windows, turn off the lights and close curtains or blinds, keep students calm and off their cell phones, use the peephole if someone knocks on the door and, lastly, wait for the “all clear” announcement to signal the end of a lockdown.
While officers did relay several instances of unlocked doors and curious students peering out of their classrooms over their radios, TUSD spokesperson Marie Russell said that the active shooter protocol was implemented “very well,” with the district able to lockdown multiple sites and secure both students and staff quickly.
Every such instance — including false alarms — is used as a learning experience, Russell said, and Tuesday’s events will be debriefed and analyzed so as to better prepare for any future occurrences.
TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Barney Gordon commended Tuesday’s response in a District-wide email, applauding the communication and coordination between school sites.
“Thankfully this incident appears to have been a hoax, but the response to any threat to our staff or students will always be taken seriously and decisively,” Gordon said.
As the lockdown was lifted, Laney said she wasn’t sure what she would say to her daughter.
“I’ll probably just hug her,” she said.
According to Amirfar, criminal charges and/or discipline through the school district could be brought upon the person or student responsible for the false alarm. All that matters, he said, is that the students and staff on campus were safe. Both TPD and THS are actively investigating who made the false report, and anyone with information is encouraged to contact the anonymous tip line at 209-668-5550 ext. 6780 or TPDtipline@turlock.ca.us.