Students spot a man with a gun on campus early in the afternoon
and police comb the area looking for the suspect
By Lori Stuenkel
Gilroy – Police with weapons drawn searched the campus and surrounding neighborhood of Luigi Aprea Elementary School Thursday afternoon, after two fourth-grade students reported seeing a man with a gun on campus.
No shots were fired, and the suspect remained at large Thursday night.
The school and neighboring Pacific West Christian Academy were locked down for about 45 minutes as a team of five Gilroy police officers tried to find the man, who students said fled the 9225 Calle Del Rey campus on foot.
While students were kept in their classrooms at the northwest quadrant school surrounded by well-kept two-story houses, parents began to arrive early and waited outside with a faculty member.
It marked the second time in nine months that a Gilroy school was locked down in response to the possibility of gun violence on campus.
The incident began at 1:16pm, when the Gilroy Police Department responded to a call from the school after two students told a teacher they saw a black man dressed all in black with what appeared to be a handgun in front of the school during lunch. The two fourth grade friends, who were inside the multi-purpose room at the time, later told GPD’s School Resource Officer Mike Terasaki that they saw the man standing near the doors of the building. They saw him point a gun at the roof of the multi-purpose room, which has windows facing Calle Del Rey and the nearby playground.
They said the man made eye contact twice, the first time while they were inside the multi-purpose room. The students then went outside, where the man made eye contact again. He then ran across the playground and adjacent Del Rey Park, toward a recreational vehicle parked in the driveway of a residence across the street, about 200 yards south of campus, said Sgt. Kurt Svardal.
Police described the suspect as a black adult male in his 20s, of average height and medium build, who was dressed all in black.
Sgt. John Sheedy said the department would increase patrols in the area Thursday night and today, although no residents in the neighborhood reported seeing the man.
As GPD officers arrived at the locked-down school, they parked at least seven vehicles along the front of the school and around the perimeter of the park and playground and prepared to search the RV, where it was believed the suspect could be hiding. With rifles in hand, five officers slowly approached the vehicle on both sides and surrounded it.
The owner of the RV was home at the time and saw the officers in his driveway.
“They called me over the fence and asked me if I’d seen anyone with a gun, but I hadn’t seen anything,” Jim Bruno said. “I opened the gate and they were standing there with guns out and everything.”
Bruno told the police he keeps the RV, as well as a van nearby, locked. The vehicle was still locked, and it did not appear the suspect had forced access, so the vehicle was cleared.
Walking in a single-file line, some officers scanned the Luigi campus, walking around the perimeter, while others searched classrooms room-by-room. Next, they walked south down the street to Pacific West Christian Academy, 1575 Mantelli Drive, to search that school as well.
Before the lockdown was lifted at 2pm, officers continued to canvas the neighborhood.
Students remained in their classrooms until about 2:15pm, or the end of the school day for some. Teachers had instituted a lockdown following an announcement from Principal Sergio Montenegro. The school runs a drill twice a year that trains staff and students to know what to do in case of an armed intruder. All schools practice the drill.
Montenegro said it was immediately clear that Thursday’s lockdown was not a drill because they’re usually notified ahead of time.
GUSD Superintendent Edwin Diaz credited Montenegro and Luigi Aprea staff for the way they responded to the incident.
“I was impressed with the communications,” he said. “I thought the situation was handled quickly and professionally.”
Fifth grade teacher Sandy Marshall said Montenegro’s announcements were calm and put everybody at ease. She said her students were scared at first, but she was able to talk to them and calm them down.
“The more we talked about it, I was able to dispel their fears,” she said. “I told them that the police were here and taking care of it.”
“We turned off the lights and we all got under the desks,” said Danny Cares, 10, a fifth-grader. “I wasn’t scared. A little nervous, but I was OK.”
Other students said they were scared, but comforted one another.
“Everybody was scared and hugging each other,” said Claire Ordaz, 10, also in fifth grade. “It was really creepy. I’ll probably be scared to come back tomorrow.”
“They locked the doors and told us to be very quiet. People were crying because they were really scared,” said Kristen Flores, a third-grader. “I was crying.”
Parents began to gather near the front of the school, some had arrived to pick up their children, others had simply been passing by the school and noticed the police vehicles.
“I think it’s very scary,” said Kathy Flores, Kristen’s mother. “I’m shocked.”
Other parents echoed Flores’ concern, saying the school is in a good neighborhood. Luigi is located in the northwest quad, surrounded by newer, affluent houses.
“I saw a police officer when I pulled up, so I assumed something was up,” said Janet Groen, whose son Paul is in fifth grade. “It looks like they had it handled..”
Students were sent home with letters from Montenegro describing what had happened.
Police will continue to investigate the incident. Besides the two students who reported seeing the gun in the suspect’s hand, several other students said they also saw the man, but did not see the gun, Terasaki said.
Last May, officials locked down Gilroy High School after a student called from off campus and threatened to shoot a teacher. It turned out to be an empty threat, and the students involved never went to the school that day.
Referring to Thursday’s incident, Montenegro said it’s possible the students are mistaken about seeing the gun.
“Our responsibility is to not assume whether the situation is real or not,” he said. “We always take all precautionary action to make sure the school is safe. We let the authorities make the decision about whether it’s really serious or not.”
Police will sort through the different accounts and are asking anyone with information to contact the department.
“During a search of the surrounding residential areas, we didn’t find anything, didn’t see anything, and no one in the area saw anything,” Sheedy said. “But that doesn’t mean they didn’t see anything.”
Anyone with information may contact the Gilroy Police Department at 846-0350.
By Lori Stuenkel and Matt King staff Writers