H.S. shooting plot foiled in N. Calif.

Police in Sonora, California, arrested four high school students and charged them, as juveniles, with conspiracy to commit assault with deadly weapons, specifically with guns, after uncovering a plot to shoot and kill students and staff at Summerville High School, the Modesto Bee reports.

ROSEBURG, Ore. (Oct 1) — Kristin Sterner, center, a freshman at Umpqua Community College, mourns during a vigil for 10 people confirmed killed and seven others wounded in a shooting at a community college. (Josh Edelson / AFP)

At a press conference on Saturday, October 3, Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele said he first heard about the case the Wednesday before. Students overheard the suspects talking about their plot to go on a shooting spree and told administrators at the high school, who notified law enforcement.

The foiling of a plot to go on a school shooting spree in Sonora is a resounding tribute to the level of trust that can exist between law enforcement personnel and members of the broader community. Sonora is in northern Californa, near Yosemite National Park. It’s the only incorporated community in Tuolumne County and is the county seat. The population was 4,903 during the 2010 Census, up from 4,423 during the 2000 Census, but has since fallen a little to an estimate of 4,808 in 2013.

The Bee quoted Mr Mele as saying this:

They were going to come on campus and shoot and kill as many people as possible on the campus. It is particularly unsettling when our most precious assets—which are our students, their teachers—are targets for violence.

I believe, with all my heart, the reason we were able to stop this was because we have a level of trust within our community. When you have a level of trust with the law enforcement, your education—we meet monthly, we meet constantly—you can do this.

The suspects’ families are said to be cooperating with authorities, and neither their names, ages, nor years in school were released. However, Sheriff Mele did say a search had come up with no actual weapons and nobody was in imminent danger. But the students apparently had a workable plan to acquire weapons.

(They were) pretty dog-gone close. (Close) enough to keep me up last night, to keep my detectives and lieutenants up last night. There was an event that would be coming up that they specifically talked about. To talk about specifically what, I don’t want to, but enough to move forward … that we took four children away from their homes in order to protect other children.

The plot came to light only a day or so before a shooting spree at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, left 10 people dead, including the lone gunman and his writing professor. Very few people in the close-knit community around Umpqua Community College were unaffected by the violence on Thursday, October 1.

In California, the history of schools shootings isn’t one to hold high. In 2014, a 22-year-old man went on a shooting spree that left six University of California, Santa Barbara, students dead. In 2013, a 23-year-old man killed five people throughout Santa Monica, ending his rampage at Santa Monica College campus, where police killed him. And in 2012, a 43-year-old shot seven people dead at a small nursing vocational school in Oakland.

The Chronicle of Higher Education spoke with two university professors who are researching gun violence: David Hemenway, of Harvard University, and Duke University’s Philip J Cook, a professor of public-policy studies and economics and sociology who says he began his study of gun violence in the mid-1970s. His perspective has changed from that of a dispassionate researcher of raw data to someone who evaluates the successes and failures of public policy.

Both researchers spoke candidly about the sparsity of good research on the subject of gun violence and mass shootings.

A brief explanation of this series

This is the second of a series of blog posts that will run several times every week, beginning with the new school year. We’ll find a quote short enough but newsworthy enough to include on these pages and open the gates. The series is titled by the Topics tag “Constructive Dialog” and has the goal of pushing for equality under the umbrella of educational opportunity for all students.

We hope, with this series, to stimulate constructive dialog between students, school officials, and caring members of our larger communities, including parents, business owners, religious organizations, and that whole “village” thing that it takes to raise a child.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.