Parents wait for word about their children in wake of shooting on campus
Chaotic is how most students and parents described the aftermath of Thursday's shooting at Taft High School that produced a citywide school lockdown and shocked the community.
Parents and other family members began flocking to the school minutes after word got out that there had been a shooting and the campus was locked down.
"It was chaotic," said Mikel Clark, 15, who, with other students was locked in a library storage room for about an hour and a half.
They put us in a storage room in back," she said. "The teachers were panicking and locked the doors. We could hear helicopters and police running around."
Clark and all other students were ushered into the campus auditorium, where parents later allowed to pick them up.
The wait was long and frustrating.
Very little information from law enforcement and school authorities was getting out.
On several occasions a Kern County Sheriff's deputy attempted to address the hundreds of parents and family members clustered on the street and sidewalk in front of the main campus building on Wildcat Way.
The officers attempted to shout out information, but only a few could hear.
Deputy Jeremy Gregory, a Taft High graduate and former member of the school's board of trustees, addressed a crowd gathered in the intersection of Woodrow Street and Wildcat Way, urging everyone to be patient and supportive.
"Please be patient," he said. "Getting upset and frustrated doesn't help us. We need you to comfort each other."
Gregory said officers and school officials were doing a room-by-room check to make sure everyone is safe.
The anxious crowd of parents and relatives outside could only wait.
Jeff Reaves, who was waiting to be reunited with his son, said it was frustrating trying to get information.
"I was just concerned for my son," he said after getting word at work there had been a shooting on campus.
"It was frustrating, and it's still frustrating waiting waiting to find out what they're going to do. They told us it was going to be on the football field and then somebody else said it would be the auditorium."
Reaves expressed frustration with the school's policy prohibiting students from bringing their cellphones to campus.
"Our kids have cell phones so we can study in contact with them, not so the school can take them away," he said.
Despite the cellphone ban most students do have them.
That's how many parents learned of the shooting and lockdown.
"Teachers were telling their students not to call on their phones but they did tell their students they could text, " said Tessa Pilgrim, whose daughter is a student.
She, too, was confused about where the students would be shuttled to be released to their parents.
Shannon Terry said she got the news in a text message from her daughter.
"She said they locked down the school because someone had been shot in the science building," she said.
"They said the field, then the auditorium, and now I'm hearing they are looking at the field."
The crowd gathered in front of the school was told to move to the intersection of Eighth and San Emidio streets where the campus cafeteria is located.
In groups of 50, parents were allowed to enter the campus at an alleyway on the west side of the cafeteria.
From there they were given cards and escorted to the auditorium where students were segregated alphabetically. Once reunited, parents and students were escorted by deputies to the football stadium where they exited at the visitor side gate.
As the crowd relocated a man pushed his way to the front and demanded to be let in because, he said, his daughter witnessed the shooting and "she needs to get out first."
Parent Devan Jones said he was a student at Taft High when the Columbine shooting occurred but never dreamed he'd be living something similar with his daughter, 15-year-old Jessica.
"She said she was OK, " he said. "She was in the science building. I was in high school when Columbine happened, and now this is happening in my life."
Jones was at work in Elk Hills when a co-worker "asked me if my daughter was at Taft High and then said there was a shooting."
Asked what his immediate thought was, he said "it was the worst thing possible. I'm still torn up about the Sandy Hook shootings because I have a daughter that age."
As he surveyed anxious parents around him, he added, "It's a sad day."
Renee Ginther's son, Conner, 16, had just enrolled at Taft High this week. It was his second day.
His chemistry, Eric Newton, had just told the class that there would be a lockdown drill next week and not to stress about it.
"A teacher came to our classroom and and said he heard shots and to lock the door," Conner said. "Mr. Newton locked the doors. We all got under tables."
Jennifer White was waiting anxiously for 15-year-old Hailie to come through the gate.
Holding on to her was 10-year-old Tyler, who had been locked down at nearby Roosevelt School.
"We had to get under our desks," he said. "We were under those desks for 45 minutes before they let us out."
Although some parents received phone messages from the school, White said she did not.
"I was unhappy about that."
One Taft High student who escaped the lockdown was student body president Mitchell Emberson because he does not have a first period class.
He arrived moments after police began arriving.
"The police just told me to go hide," he said.
He said he was stunned.
"You hear it in the news but you just never expect it to happen at your school," he said.
The sheriff's department dispatched two chaplains, the Red Cross and Salvation Army brought in water, coffee, Gatorade and food.