Today was the first day of finals at Redwood High School - so imagine the frustration of the teachers when they suddenly heard the "lockdown" bells.
"You've got to be kidding," my daughter's teacher said. "Not today."
Per protocol, the instructor logged on to his computer for further information and instructions from the front office and immediately read an email to the class:
"This is not a drill. This is a true lockdown. Three murder-suspect prisoners have escaped from the courthouse."
The courthouse is only a couple of hundred feet from the Vista campus of Redwood High. So he promptly locked the door, moved the students into the center of the room - away from the windows - and turned off the lights.
My younger daughter immediately text me.
Thank God for cell phones. (After Columbine, even though my children were young, I went and got them all cell phones. Now, almost every kid in school has one.)
"Mama, we're in a lockdown. I'm scared. Three prisoners escaped from the county jail. They are telling us that they murdered someone and they are considered dangerous. I'm scared but we're fine. We're safe for now."
I immediately text her back and assured her that I would be standing by and ready to go get her if need be but to keep communicating with me. I am only a few blocks from the school and I know better than to head to the school and get in the way of police officers. Still, I drove that direction and stayed a couple of blocks away.
The area was swamped with officers. I stayed away but did text my daughter until I heard the "all clear" announcement from her.
According to Visalia Police Sgt. Allyn Wightman (at a press conference) the escape occurred at approximately 8:30 a.m. when [names removed] escaped after arriving to Tulare County Superior Courthouse in a van from Juvenile Hall. Guarded by unarmed probation officers, the three juveniles ran as they reached an entryway to the courthouse.
“They were handcuffed and shackled, but were able to slip out of the leg shackles as they ran,” Wightman said. “They went in a northerly direction and into a residential area in Green Acres — a housing area of that name.”
The three now face charges of escape, resisting and delaying officers in the performance of their duties, and possession of an article to aid a prisoner or inmate in making escape, said Wightman.
"We were so scared, mom," Jennifer said. "We were at the Vista campus and after we all moved to the other side of the room, we heard a shot go off. We all screamed. We heard the guys were hiding in the slough next to the school. That is so scary."
The Vista Campus is down the street from the courthouse - only a couple hundred feet - but according to the press release, the three juvenile murder suspects were captured less than two hours later in the Green Acres area - a woodsy home area northwest of the campus. The shot might have been a backfire from a vehicle because no shots were fired.
Press release info:
The Visalia Police Department, Tulare County Sheriff’s Department and MAGNET — a multiple-agency drug task consisting of the VPD, TCSO, state parole, California Highway Patrol and investigators from the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office and probation officers — all assisted in the search of the three teens.
Witnesses located the escapees in the 1700 block of West Main Street. Vista is in the 1400 block of West Main.
A perimeter was established and a yard-to-yard search began and shortly before 10 a.m. the three were located in the area of Fairway Street and Manor Drive.
“They scaled a fence when they were first located,” Wightman said, “and the yard they entered was full of police officers. So, they basically jumped a fence to waiting officers.”
Without further incident, the juveniles were taken into custody — still in their jail attire that consisted of grey sweatshirts, tan pants and green T-shirts.
“After they were located and arrested, they were sent back to Juvenile Hall and searched,” Wightman said, “and one of them, [name removed] was in possession of a handcuff key.”
The three were to appear in court this morning for a murder preliminary hearing. They are being charged as adults in connection to the Oct. 1, 2006 murder of Robert Trevino, 16, of Visalia.
Wightman said Trevino was killed on Northeast Fourth Street in Visalia.
The court hearing was postponed to Dec. 19.