Escalon Police investigated a potential threat on the campus of El Portal Middle School earlier this month, ultimately determining it was not credible, said Police Chief Mike Borges.
On May 13 at about 9:45 a.m., Borges said, the Escalon Police Department received a call from El Portal Middle School staff. The school was reporting that they had been contacted by two parents of students who informed them that there was possibly going to be a shooting on campus. The only information that was provided to the school at that time, was that the shooter was possibly a family member of a student.
Neither the school nor the Escalon Police Department had been made aware of the threats prior to this.
“At 9:53 a.m., Escalon Police Officers arrived on campus. By this time, school staff had already spoken with the students whose parents had called the school,” said Borges. “School staff learned that the students whose parents had called the school, heard rumors filtered through several people about the threat. School staff identified two possible students responsible for the threat and one possible direct witness to the threat.”
Authorities, in cooperation with school staff, agreed to not notify parents of the threat at that time, a decision that Borges said was made considering several factors.
Among them were: Two potential suspects (sources of the threat) had been identified, their bags searched and no weapons were found; because the alleged shooter was an adult who would be coming from off campus, police did not want unknown adults (parents) arriving at the campus; and, there were no known credible threats, just rumors.
Also, said Borges, police did not want to cause panic by spreading unfounded rumors without first gathering facts and if parents came to pick up their children while the investigation was unfolding, they could be removing potential witnesses that could provide valuable information.
“In speaking with the involved parties several other potential witnesses were identified and interviewed,” Borges explained.
Police investigated the possibility that the threats were contained in an online group message going back and forth between several students at the school, including a 13-year-old girl who was reported to have stated that her brother was going to come to the school and “pop” some male students, friends of a 15-year-old girl at the school. Borges said the two teen girls reportedly had “a falling out” and were arguing back and forth in the group text.
“The 15-year-old female provided officers with text allegedly copied from the conversation that was saved in a note file. In the format the messages were saved, they could have been easily edited, so their authenticity could not be verified,” Borges said. “The text referenced an incident on Friday, but did not contain any threats. The 15-year-old female could not produce any evidence that any type of threat was made by the 13-year-old female.”
Borges said the younger teen “denied making the threats and denied being in the aforementioned group message. Due to conflicting statements and nobody being able to provide any evidence that this group message existed, it is unknown if it took place.”
Police were able to identify the brother of the 13-year-old girl, determining he lives in Stockton.
“At 10:54 a.m., Escalon Police Officers called an allied agency to contact him. At 11:53 a.m., the allied agency informed us that they had contacted the brother at his residence in Stockton and he was unaware of the threats and had no intent of committing a shooting at the school,” said Borges. “He agreed to come to the Escalon Police Department to meet with Escalon PD Officers. By this time we were able to verify that the threat was not credible. A notice was published on the Escalon Police Department Facebook page and the school made an all-call to all parents.”
The investigation continued to determine the source of the rumor, finding that there were several teens involved in an ongoing verbal dispute prior to the inference of threats.
“The response to this incident was an exercise of an overabundance of caution. Besides the Escalon Police personnel on scene, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office provided personnel to assist. Because of the nature of the rumor, we wanted to have all resources on hand in case there turned out to be a credible threat, which is why there was such a large police presence on campus,” Borges said of the May 13 response. “At no time during the investigation was a credible threat detected and nobody was believed to be in any danger, which is why the school was not put on lockdown and parents were not notified until we had enough factual information to disseminate. Please keep in mind that if a credible threat was detected the school would have been put on lockdown and parents would have been unable to enter the campus or pick up their children from the school until it was deemed safe to do so.”