Local News

Wednesday, Jan 23 2013 02:17 PM

Two schools locked down in separate incidents

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Kern County sheriff deputies stand guard as parents pick up their children from Lamont Elementary School after it was locked down when second-graders reported they saw a man with a firearm trying to climb the fence at the school. Deputies surrounded and searched the school but did not find a suspect.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Lamont Elementary School vice principal Elynor Cherie Olgin gives instructions to waiting parents who came to pick up their children following a lockdown of the school after children reported seeing a man with a firearm at nearby Lamont Park.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Parents wait on the left side of the fence in Lamont Park to pick up their children, (right side), at Lamont Elementary School after it was locked down when second-graders reported they saw a man with a firearm trying to climb the fence at the school. Authorities have not found the suspect.

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By JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Two elementary schools were locked down Wednesday afternoon as Kern County Sheriff’s deputies investigated separate reports of gunfire or suspicious suspects near the campuses.

Deputies went to Lamont Elementary School Wednesday afternoon after students reported seeing a man armed with a gun trying to gain access to the school’s playgrounds.

Sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt said deputies were called to the scene at about 1:25 p.m. after three second-graders playing on school grounds during recess told other students that a man with a firearm was climbing the fence between Lamont Park and the school.

School administrators put the campus on lockdown while deputies surrounded the school and conducted two sweeps of the campus, looking for the suspect.

Deputies did not find anyone, Pruitt said.

Parent Teresa Martinez said she heard there was a shooter near the school and that the campus was in lockdown from a cousin who found out about it on the Facebook social media site at about 2 p.m.

“I rushed over here,” she said.

As she made her way to the school she was thinking, she said, about “what happened at Sandy Hook,” the Connecticut school where a gunman killed 20 children and six others in December.

Her two daughters, in third and first grades, were safe and on their way home in the bus.

“My daughters are safely home, thank God,” Martinez said.

She checked on them, then returned to the school to pick up her niece for her sister who was stuck in Bakersfield.

Pruitt said the sheriff’s office investigation into the incident is continuing and deputies were speaking with the children who witnessed the suspect and sorting through the details of their stories.

One girl reported hearing a gunshot, he said, but deputies couldn’t confirm that with other students or people in the area.

And students at the school, which serves children in kindergarten through third grades, provided different descriptions of the person. Some described a mask. Others said he was wearing different colored shirts.

But Pruitt said deputies believe the children did witness something.

And he said school officials responded appropriately to the report — calling deputies and immediately locking down the school.

Lamont School District Assistant Superintendent Jose Cantu said the district takes these situations seriously.

“Given the issues on the East Coast and in our back yard in Taft, our students and teachers are on alert,” he said.

In fact, the district had notified students that there was to be a practice drill of the school safety plan in the near future.

But Wednesday’s incident was no drill, Cantu said.

Once deputies determined everything was secure, which took about one hour, students were released to their parents.

At about 2:28 p.m., as the last students at Lamont Elementary were beginning to be released to their families, sheriff’s deputies were called to a shooting across the street from Fairview Elementary School in Rexland Acres, a small neighborhood in southeast Bakersfield.

Pruitt said individuals exchanged gunfire in an alley one block north of the school then ran south through Rexland Acres Park to Malibar Street where additional shots were fired.

He said no one appears to have been injured in the exchange of gunfire.

Sheriff’s Department reports describe the suspects as two Hispanic males, one in his teens, and state that witnesses told deputies that the men fled the location of the shooting in two vehicles, one a “a white lifted Ford pickup” and the other “an older brown vehicle.”

Deputies responding to the call informed Fairview Elementary of the shooting and the school was placed on lockdown for an hour while deputies made sure the school was secure.

“We did have a report of a possible burglary in the same area at the same time,” Pruitt said. But he said he was uncertain if the incidents were related.

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