Shooting at Taft School is families’ nightmare

By Patric Hedlund

Local parents have been on edge since the Newtown shooting December 14 in which 20 small children and six administrators were killed by a 20-year-old man with a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a large capacity magazine. The school board for El Tejon Unified School District planned to review the school safety plans at their meeting January 10, but an ice and snow storm led to calling a ‘snow day’ at the schools and postponing the board meeting.

Just down the road in Taft that same morning, 16-year-old Bryan Oliver walked into the science building at Taft Union High School with a 12-gauge shotgun about 9 a.m. He shot classmate Bowe Cleveland, 16 then attempted to shoot a second student, Jacob Nichols, before unarmed science teacher Ryan Heber is credited with talking Oliver into putting down the gun. Heber’s head was grazed by a shotgun pellet, but he refused medical assistance. Security officer Kim Fields is also said to have helped defuse the situation when Oliver stopped to reload.

Well-known Mountain Community resident Abbe Gore, an accomplished photographer and now a substitute teacher at Taft High School, was driving to Bakersfield when she heard the alert over her car radio.

"I turned around and drove right to the school," she said, arriving by 9:45 a.m. Her twins, Melissa and Eric, are seniors at the high school.

At least six former Frazier Mountain High School students are now attending Taft High School, Gore said. All were unhurt, including Julie Nichols’ two children, Wade Jones’ son Justin, Gore’s twins and another girl. They transferred to the well-equipped school of 1,000 students when it was announced in 2011 that interscholastic sports could be discontinued at Frazier Mountain High School.

Gore tells of waiting until 2:30 p.m. to finally be able to take her kids home.

"As a parent it was anguishing not to know what was going on. [The shooting] was in the science building where my daughter had a class at that time."

"I was letting the kids know where I was via texting. When I first went back to Taft I went to the ROP building and saw Eric and saw he was okay. Then they took all those children to the auditorium with the other children. I heard from Melissa at 11 a.m.

"While we were waiting outside it started to hail.

"Wade Jones was working at Kmart. He walked three miles to the school. All he had was his Kmart tag with his first name on it for ID…It was mayhem in the parking lot. Tons of news crews, photographers, video taping, interviewing.

"It was a very time-consuming process to pick up our children. Parents were standing outside in a line. It was freezing cold.

"Sheriffs got on megaphones and announced ‘your kids are safe and we want to do this in an orderly fashion.’ They were being super-cautious to release kids only to those on the school’s release card. I think they may need to rework how they do that. They had the children in the auditorium, they brought in food and water. Teachers, administrators and maintenance people all had a role to confirm that no one went in and out.

"They did things alphabetically to bring parents in. We all had to show identification. They escorted us into the auditorium. There was secretarial staff with release forms, checking identification. The athletic director was getting students whose parents were ready to take them."

There were FBI and ATF agents, a SWAT team, Kern County Sheriffs, "a huge outpouring of law enforcement," Gore said. The Taft Police Department High School Resource Officer is a Mountain Communities resident. Huffington Post reported that he was not on campus at the time of the shooting because the Grapevine was closed due to the snowstorm on the mountain.

When we spoke with Gore shortly after she had gotten home, she said: "We all were freezing cold. The kids are all shaken up.

"I’m glad that we are all safe and I appreciate people [from the mountain] contacting us to be sure we are safe. It is something you never think is going to happen at your back door. No matter where you are, you never believe it will happen to you," Gore said.

On Monday, Jan. 14 Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green announced that Oliver will be tried as an adult with two counts of attempted murder and three counts of assault with a firearm. Cleveland is in critical but stable condition.

School safety plans are on the El Tejon Unified School District agenda for Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at the El Tejon Continuation High School on the FMHS campus (the first white building on your left off of Falcon Way). The January 10 board meeting was cancelled due to snow.

This is part of the January 18, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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