Police found the 16-year-old the following night living in a tent in a backyard on Newbridge Street in East Palo Alto with two other teens and "a bunch of trash around," said Sgt. Jeff Rickel of the Atherton Police Department. He had run away from home and was taken into custody and released to the county's Child Protective Services, Sgt. Rickel said.
"He didn't really commit a crime," Sgt. Rickel said of the photo. "There's no crime there. He's not making a credible threat to anybody."
An unfolding story
The incident began when someone called county dispatchers saying that a teenage male had posted the picture on Facebook at about 9:30 a.m. Dispatchers said they were told the photo might have been taken in a high school restroom and that the teen pictured had attended Woodside High School, according to an Atherton police report.
Atherton police learned that the teen in the photo had actually attended M-A and had recently been expelled, and so ordered a lockdown of the campus at 555 Middlefield Road in Atherton.
On the scene for the lockdown were 10 officers: the police chief, the department commander, two detectives, five Atherton police officers and one Menlo Park police officer, Sgt. Rickel said.
Two M-A staff members told police that the pattern of tiles on the bathroom wall shown in the photo looked like it could be a bathroom on the campus, Sgt. Rickel said.
The officers divided into three teams to search the campus for the teen in the photo, including restrooms and classrooms in which students had barricaded themselves. The protocol for police at a locked classroom door was to knock, identify oneself as a police officer, and unlock the door with a key provided by the school, Sgt. Rickel said.
If the unlocked door wouldn't open, chances were that students had blocked it with a bookshelf, eliciting a response like, "Atherton police. You need to move the bookshelf," Sgt. Rickel said.
"They did an awesome job," he said, referring to students taking such protective steps. Asked about their mood, he said they were "pretty stressed ... a lot of fear and trepidation," with at least one encounter in which a student was ready to swing an improvised weapon at an intruder before realizing it was an officer.
The search of the campus proved fruitless, but having acquired a cellphone number for the teen, police called him. On receiving the call, the teen, who lives in East Palo Alto and was at a job site in Campbell and spoke only Spanish, handed the phone to his boss, Sgt. Rickel said.
In collaboration with Atherton investigators, Campbell police interviewed the teen and found that he "was not in possession of a gun," and had "no intention of harming himself or others." He did own a pellet gun, a .357 Magnum replica thought to have been the gun in the photo and that has since been confiscated, Sgt. Rickel said.
Police said they learned that the photo was "weeks old" and that the bathroom in the photo was not on the M-A campus, but in a restaurant in Redwood City.
The day after the lockdown, the teen did send text messages threatening an unidentified M-A student who investigators were subsequently able to identify, Sgt. Rickel said, adding that the teen was "cooperative the whole time, other than what he sent in the text that got us all riled up."
The lockdown at M-A lasted almost two and a half hours. Atherton police lifted it at 1:52 p.m., according to a bulletin posted on the police department website that afternoon.
Around the time the lockdown was lifted, according to Superintendent Mary Streshly of the Sequoia Union High School District, M-A Principal Simone Rick-Kennel informed the M-A community that the school day would "resume as normal," and that police had "completed their clearing of all classrooms and spaces on our very large site."
The mother of a freshman at M-A told a reporter that her daughter, from the floor of a science classroom, joined her friends throughout the school on their phones in a group chat during the lockdown.
The woman also texted her daughter during the incident, as did other parents, she said.
Atherton police dismissed rumors of parents driving to M-A and causing traffic jams. Parents did collect as pedestrians outside the school with questions for officers that only school officials could respond to, Sgt. Rickel said.
"It wasn't that big of a deal," he said, referring to being asked questions.
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