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Chaotic scenes as students are released after all-day lockdown

One middle school had parents standing in line for hours and showing IDs to pick up their children, while a high school released hundreds of students onto the streets all at once.

January 20, 2011|By Ching-Ching Ni and Robert J. Lopez, Los Angeles Times
  • Parents waited into the night to pick up their children at Hale Middle School after the lockdown was lifted. Many parents criticized the school and the district for their handling of the situation.
Parents waited into the night to pick up their children at Hale Middle School… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

As authorities continued their search Wednesday night for a gunman who shot a Los Angeles school police officer, thousands of students reunited with their parents after spending the day locked down in their classrooms.

At one school, the process was a drawn-out affair with parents waiting hours to pick up their children. At another campus, hundreds of students flooded the streets at once as parents searched the crowd for sons and daughters.

Developing: Students return to class

Some parents were critical of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which at one point sealed off nine schools with a combined enrollment of about 9,000 students as a police dragnet covered a seven-square-mile area in Woodland Hills. The search area was opened about 9:15 p.m.

"There's no organization. No information. No nothing. You just go get your kids and God help you," said Mario Tenesi, who picked up children at El Camino Real High School and Hale Middle School.

At the middle school, about 1,000 parents were still standing after dark in a line that snaked around the campus.

They then entered a multipurpose room where they wrote down their child's name so that a school official could summon the student. The parents met their children in another room, then had to wait in another line and show their IDs before being allowed to leave.

"Whoever is in charge needs to rethink this," said David Bates, who waited three hours. "They are not prepared."

Other parents, including Samuel Oliva, said the district was doing a good job. "If he's safe, I can wait all night," Oliva said of his 12-year-old son.

The process at Hale contrasted with that of nearby El Camino Real High, where hundreds of students poured onto the streets shortly before 6 p.m. Students wandered the streets while parents tried to spot their children.

Parent Tracy Moses was angry as she scooped up her children and their friends — about 10 students in all — outside the high school. The gunman was still loose, she noted, questioning why the district had released the unsupervised youths.

"I'm furious — the school let everyone out all at once with this guy still on the run," Moses said. "This was handled dreadfully."

El Camino Real Assistant Principal Dean Bennett said police officials had declared the area safe.

English teacher Natasha Zwick and the 36 students inside her classroom were just happy to have their freedom back.

To pass the time, they had set up a television inside the class and watched newscasts about the shooting. As the hours passed, they shared snacks that students had brought to school.

"The bathroom was the worst issue because we weren't allowed out," Zwick said.

She said they set up a makeshift bathroom with a trash can. It wasn't ideal, she acknowledged, but no one complained.

"The kids were amazing," Zwick said. "Nobody complained, nobody whined, nobody cried."

Throughout the ordeal, she said, administrators kept teachers and students informed with updates on the school's public address system. Finally, about 5:15 p.m., they heard the words they had been waiting for: They could leave the campus.

chingching.ni@latimes.com

robert.lopez@latimes.com

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