PLACERVILLE, Calif. (CBS13) — When a school janitor allegedly gunned down a popular elementary school principal Wednesday morning, school officials and authorities leaped into action to lock down the campus and hunt for the shooter.
As conflicting information trickled out from officials, terrified parents waited for hours to reunite with their children, many of whom had no idea that their principal had been killed.
Julie Dewater, a 4th grade teacher at Louisiana Schnell Elementary, said she was ordered to lock down her classroom after 44-year-old John Luebbers, a school janitor, allegedly walked into the office of 50-year-old Sam LaCara and shot him at about 10:35 a.m.
“You could tell in the panicked voice it really was [serious] and we did our latches on the door,” Dewater said.
The students in Dewater’s class had little idea of what was unfolding on campus, even when they spotted armed authorities combing the campus.
“We were locked down before because a family of skunks was out, so that’s what they thought,” she said. “When they saw people with guns, they thought they were being protected for that.”
The students still had no idea what had happened when they were reunited with their parents, hours later.
“They’ll find out when they go home,” Dewater said. “[LaCara was] a father to every kid there. He’s like a brother to me, He is incredible and he’s touched a lot of lives, but I still can’t believe that happened.”
When word of the shooting reached the media, a CBS13 producer went to the home of the alleged suspect about a half hour after the incident, but found no police presence. Producer Shawn Boyd confirmed the presence of Luebbers’ vehicle and called authorities to notify them and waited near the property.
Placer County Sheriff’s deputies arrived about 25 minutes later and set up a perimeter, ordering Luebbers to surrender.
As parents continued to wait to see their children, tensions boiled over. Police briefly detained one mother who attempted to run through a barricade in her red vehicle, who declared, “I don’t care if I go to jail. I want my child to be safe.”
Irritations skyrocketed after conflicting messages from school officials sent parents to the fairgrounds to pick up their children, and then the parking lot of a local newspaper, and then back again.
Rumors that the shooting had taken place inside a classroom spread, further inflaming the impatient crowd.
The buses finally arrived in the mid afternoon, and parents waited in another line to show their identification before officials would let them take their children home.
“I know we have to follow protocol but I just want to hug her,” said Shawntea Kurtin.
One by one, the students were taken home, where parents faced what may be the hardest part of the ordeal: Explaining the tragic events of the day.