Conflicting reports of an incident regarding the firing of a pellet gun at Burbank High School has left Burbank Unified School District parents and students seeking answers.
On Tuesday, an email from Assistant Superintendent John Paramo sent to BUSD parents and students said that two BHS students were shot by a gel pellet gun from the window of a suspicious car.
When the Leader followed up with police, BPD officials said that they have no evidence the shooting occurred.
“It appears the email was sent without having all the facts or the facts were not communicated accurately,” Sgt. Brent Fekety told the Leader.
“We have not located any students that have claimed to have been shot by a pellet gun or paintball gun, we did not pursue any vehicle, no one saw anyone else shoot a paintball gun or pellet gun, and we have spoken with a campus employee who reported a suspicious vehicle but did not see the activity reported in the email sent to parents by BUSD,” Fekety said.
It is unclear why reports from the district conflict with evidence sourced by police. On Friday, Superintendent Matt Hill told the Leader that BUSD is coordinating with police to share and confirm all of the information each party has, though he did not confirm if students were actually shot by pellet guns.
Shortly after the email about the alleged shooting incident at BHS, a separate incident occurred at John Burroughs High School. On Tuesday at about 2:37 p.m., police reported receiving a false call of an active shooting on the campus of John Burroughs High School. An unidentified person called police and said multiple students had been shot in a classroom at the school.
“The school was immediately notified of the report and police officers responded. The first officers arrived shortly after the call was received and immediately began a systematic search of the school campus but did not locate any victims or evidence of a shooting,” Fekety said in a statement.
Shortly after, the campus was deemed safe, and students remained on campus as class resumed, Fekety said.
“Occasionally, the BPD receives fake emergency calls involving reports of a shooting, stabbing, or bomb threat, which are commonly referred to as ‘swatting’ incidents,” Fekety said.
One such swatting incident occurred earlier this year at Burbank’s Joaquin Miller Elementary School, after an unknown caller falsely reported planting a bomb on campus, temporarily disrupting classes at the school.
“These calls involve the action of making a false report of an emergency to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers, or Special Weapons and Tactics teams, to a particular address. This type of false reporting of an emergency is illegal and extremely dangerous,” Fekety said.
According to police, fake emergency calls place first responders and members of the public at risk and tie up emergency resources. False emergency calls have resulted in serious injury and even death in the United States, Fekety said in a statement.
“The Burbank Police Department takes this issue very seriously and will investigate all false reports of emergencies. Anyone suspected of reporting a false emergency or false crime will be held liable, both criminally and civilly for any costs associated with the response of public safety personnel,” Fekety said.
Confusion over the BHS and JBHS incidents comes just days after parents and district staff expressed safety concerns to district leadership at a town hall meeting March 30. Days prior, on March 27, a mass shooting at a private school in Nashville, Tennessee, took the lives of six students and teachers.
“Every day I go to work and think ‘will today be the day that I don’t return to my child?’” said JBHS office administrator Erika Barragan during the meeting.
During the town hall, Hill said the district will ramp up school safety measures and is studying other solutions to prevent incidents from taking place. The meeting was held after a 22-year-old man entered the Burbank High School campus on March 6 and allegedly sexually assaulted three girls before being arrested.
That man pleaded not guilty to one count of felony sexual assault and two misdemeanor counts of annoyance of a child under the age of 18.
Hill said that police routinely train on school sites in order to respond quickly to active shooter incidents. He added that “if someone with a high-powered rifle wants to get in, they will. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be smart about making campuses as safe as possible.”
First published in the April 8 print issue of the Burbank Leader.