LIVINGSTON -- A teacher at Livingston High School was arrested Monday morning after police say she helped students ingest chloroform.
Chemistry teacher Japhia Smith Huhndorf, 34, of Atwater, had assisted three male students -- 16, 17 and 18 years old -- as they ingested the chemical, which can be used as an anesthetic, said Sgt. Ray Fong of the Livingston Police Department.
Fong said police believe that Huhndorf helped the students inhale the chloroform using a towel. He said there were at least three incidents over the past five months.
Television news crews and police officers were waiting as school let out Tuesday afternoon. Students Yvette Fuentes and Fabiola Areyan said they were in Huhndorf's chemistry class last year and were shocked to hear about her arrest. "When this happened, we couldn't believe it. She was always laughing, happy and nice," Fuentes said as Areyan pulled out her yearbook and turned to a photo of Huhndorf labeled as the school's "most spirited teacher."
"They were probably just messing around and it wasn't meant to hurt anyone," Fuentes said. "It sucks that the school's getting a bad reputation because of something like this."
Guillermo Hermosillo, 38, the father of a freshman student, said he was shocked to hear about the arrest. "Something like this is pretty bad. The school is pretty safe; it's not a school you hear a lot of bad things about, so when this happens, you get shocked. We just want them to be safe."
Color guard instructor Alyssa Silva, however, said the news didn't come as a surprise. "I'm sad to say that I wasn't really surprised that it happened," she said. "This kind of stuff has happened before. It's not the school that's bad, I just think that all public schools are bad."
In February, Livingston High School janitor Javier Trujillo was arrested and charged with molesting a 15-year-old female student. His case is still pending, according to interim Livingston Police Chief Chris Soria.
Huhndorf was arrested on suspicion of three counts of felony child endangerment, Fong said.
Livingston High School Principal Ralph Calderon and administrators at the Merced Union High School District declined comment, citing personnel issues.
Chloroform in large amounts can affect the body's central nervous system, liver and kidneys, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.
The Livingston Police Department is investigating the incident and would like anyone with information to call Detective Silva at (209) 394-7916.
Police encourage parents who believe their children were exposed to chloroform to have their children evaluated by a doctor.
Reporters Mike North, Sam Cosby and online editor Brandon Bowers contributed to this story.