Local News

Thursday, Jan 10 2013 10:30 PM

In Taft, a day of "pure tragedy"

BY RACHEL COOK AND JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writers rcook@bakersfield.com, jkotowski@bakersfield.com

TAFT -- In this city, population 9,327, word spread quickly.

The news got around, via phone calls, text messages and social media. There had been a shooting at the high school.

The streets surrounding Taft Union High School became chaotic, particularly on 6th Street between Roosevelt Elementary School and Lincoln Junior High where parents were lined up outside the schools to pick up their children.

A helicopter circled overhead.

Kimberly Hutchins stood behind a roped off section of a street near the school and watched as sheriff's deputies walked outside school buildings. She had both family and friends who work at or go to the school , she said, so she rushed over after hearing about the shooting.

She said she saw someone put into the back of an ambulance and taken away and had seen another person in a hooded sweatshirt placed into the back of a Taft police cruiser, but she didn't know the identities of either.

At the school, authorities said later, a teenage boy had walked into a science class with a shotgun and had fired on another boy. A teacher and a campus supervisor persuaded the shooter to put down his weapon and it was all over before the first Taft police officers arrived, almost immediately.

All over but the reunions, that is.

Parents flocked to the campus but were kept at a distance; it took anxious hours for all the kids to be released to their families.

Hutchins described Taft as a small town and a very good place to live.

"This is a pure tragedy," she said.

Another parent, Karen Havens, said she received a message from her 15-year-old son at 9:20 a.m. that the school was in lockdown and he and classmates had been moved from a classroom to the auditorium. The mother said she was "doing OK" because her son wasn't in the building where the shooting occurred.

Things like this don't happen in Taft, she said.

The scene behind the high school's football stadium was calm as hundreds of people crowded San Emidio Street waiting for the students to be released. Some shed tears.

Family members waited for several hours, shuffling back and forth between the stadium gates and the front of the school, before they were taken into the school in groups to get their children.

Students emerged from the stadium gates in clusters, greeted by hugs from the crowd standing outside.

Several students said they learned of the shooting when a voice came over the school's loud speaker announcing a lockdown. They said some students thought it was a drill because they knew a lockdown practice had been planned.

But the voice on the intercom yelled, "This is not a drill, this is a lockdown,'" according to Joseph Arellano, 16, a junior who was in auto shop class when the shooting occurred.

Several students came into Joseph's classroom crying and said there had been a shooting in another classroom, Joseph said.

His teacher told everybody to get into the bathroom and closed and locked all the doors.

Joseph said the shooter had been bullied and there were rumors that he had a hit list. (Kern Sheriff Donny Youngblood said later that deputies were investigating those reports.) Arellano said the student was a junior and that he and the boy were in the same English class. The day before the shooting, Joseph asked the boy what book he was reading.

"He was picked on by a lot of students. He didn't really have any friends, like nobody really talked to him. He would always read in the library alone," Joseph said. "He just didn't like to associate with people. He didn't like talking to anybody really."

Joseph said he was frustrated that students can get caught using their phones so easily at school but that the shooter wasn't spotted bringing a gun to school.

(In fact, a neighbor saw the boy going into the school with a gun and called 911.)

His father, Ramon Arellano, 42, said he moved his family to Taft from Los Angeles for their safety.

"It shocked me seeing the situation (with the shooting)," Arellano said.

Tevin Howell, a 14-year-old freshman, said he was in an Algebra class across the hall from where the shooting occurred. He heard two or three gunshots and "a lot of screaming and yelling."

"I just remember my teacher running out the door, looking around, slamming the door and locking it and telling us to get to the back of the classroom and get down," Howell said.

Howell was tearful as he hugged family members several hours after the shooting.

"I was just pretty glad that I got out safely. I was crying at the same time tears of joy and I was still scared," Tevin said.

Kyly Wright, a student at Lincoln Junior High School in Taft, said a teacher entered the classroom Thursday morning with a panicked look on her face. She locked the doors and told Kyly and her classmates to lie down on the ground.

Kyly's mom, Misty Wright, lives down the street from the school and heard about the shooting on TV. She said she'd heard from other residents that as many as 10 people had been shot, but then later realized that number had been exaggerated.

Misty Wright said she was having trouble taking in what had happened, and planned to call some church members to discuss what she and others were going through.

"I just can't concentrate," she said.

Nicole Michalski was crying and struggling to talk as she made her way to the football field. Her son is a sophomore at the school and was in the library when the shooting occurred.

Michalski's daughter, a freshman at the school, was home sick Thursday, otherwise she would have been in the same building as the shooter.

"It's awful, knowing my daughter would have been across the hall," she said.

Local resident Sean Reser was watching the commotion and, upon hearing of the shooting, was stupefied that yet another school shooting had happened, this time locally.

"I just can't believe what the world's gone to," Reser said.

Despite the confusion, Taft resident Becky Lally said she thought the community was handling things well as she waited for the her two granddaughters to be released from the high school.

"I do give it to the Taft people, I think we've done wonderful out here," she said.

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