Menlo-Atherton High School was put on lockdown on Tuesday, April 6, after a man called the Atherton Police Department, threatening to "shoot up the school," said Atherton Police Chief Steve McCulley. It was students' second day back in classrooms in over a year after the Atherton campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The caller told the police dispatch operator around 2:30 p.m. that he was in an unused classroom on campus with "guns and ammo." Around the same time, police believe the same person called Menlo Park's police dispatch and said he was holed up in a residence on the 2300 block of Tioga Drive with a gun and had shot someone in the residence, according to McCulley and Menlo Park Police Department spokesperson Nicole Acker. It turned out to be a false "swatting" call, she said.
When officers arrived, they found a family at their residence with "no suspicious activity or any extraordinary events taking place," Acker said. The officers determined it was swatting, so-called because the false reports are meant to trick police into mounting a huge response including SWAT teams.
There was a prior swatting call at the same address last year, she said. Police suspect it may be due to an "online gaming dispute," but this has not been completed vetted, Acker said.
Police released one classroom, or space, at a time, according to an email administrators sent to parents around 3:30 p.m. There were 60 students on campus for 0 period (which is our last class on Tuesdays from 1:25 to 2:35 p.m.), said Principal Simone Rick-Kennel said. There were also about 60 students here for athletic practices. About 120 staff were on campus, which includes classified staff, certificated staff, coaches and administration. Teachers are able to work remotely during prep periods and office hours so not all were present during the scheduled 0 period if it was their prep, she said. The school is open at 25% capacity during its initial reopening.
"This is not exactly how we wanted to return to school, but our preparedness for situations like these kept everybody safe," said Rick-Kennel in an April 6 email.
The school resource officer, KC MacDonald of the Atherton Police Department and other Atherton officers, in coordination with Menlo Park Police Department and the Sheriff's Office, were able to secure the campus, Rick-Kennel said. Police went "room to room" checking for any threat, as they "were not taking any chance in case it was real," McCulley said.
"Everyone is safe," he said. "We assume it was fake, but we're utilizing our well-practiced procedures to make sure everyone is safe."
Students were dismissed from the front of the school, according to an email to parents.