Students at Le Grand Elementary School were having discussions Friday about participating in the National Schools Walkout event focused on school shootings and safety when the topic shifted to the importance of reporting threats, Superintendent Rosina Hurtado said.
That's when some students brought up threatening comments that they heard another student made.
"We just started looking into it," Hurtado told the Merced Sun-Star Friday afternoon. "Whether kids are joking or not, we take it seriously and reported it." Hurtado said administration relayed the information to the Merced County Sheriff's Office.
That night, deputies arrested a 13-year-old male student for making terrorist threats against the school, Sheriff Vern Warnke said. He was in custody Saturday at a juvenile jail.
The student, whose name was not released because he is a minor, said he was going to bring harm to students, Warnke said.
The student thought of a plan to take out the Verizon cell tower in Le Grand, Warnke said. And he commented on enlisting some Le Grand High School students to block entrances to the elementary school during an attack.
"He said he wasn't serious, but we took it seriously," Warnke said, noting that three other students corroborated the threat. "We determined that it was a very credible threat."
The suspect's parents were contacted and 12 firearms were temporarily confiscated from a locked safe in their home, Warnke said.
There was no imminent threat to the school, Warnke said, adding that he asked the school administration to hold off on sending an announcement about the threat to avoid panic as deputies continued investigating into the evening.
"We take every threat very seriously and we vet the reports," Warnke said.
Two other investigated school threats have resulted in arrests in Merced County.
On Feb. 16, 19-year-old former Gustine High School student Joshua Delgado was arrested after sharing a photo of Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz on Facebook and making a threatening statement in the photo's comment section.
A 34-year-old Merced College student also was arrested on Feb. 25 for making unspecified threats on social media.
The criminal threat at Le Grand Elementary is one of the reasons some student leaders are organizing a school walkout on March 14, in solidarity with the National Schools Walkout movement sparked by the Parkland shooting.
Seventeen people died in the Valentine's Day shooting after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus.
The shooting has led to a national debate surrounding gun reform, school safety, mental health and congressional inaction. Leading the debate were student survivors of the Parkland shooting.
In social studies classes, Le Grand students read an article about those survivors taking a stand, 13-year-old eighth grader Riley Lopez said.
"We want to relay to Congress that something needs to happen," Riley said.
The march is being organized by the Eighth Grade Leadership Team, the student council of the school that includes Riley and eighth graders Kiyoko Bush, Lolita Calvillo, Jonathan Moreno and Easten Priddell.
""Our parents said they approve as long as it's approved by the school," Riley said.
Details on the walkout is being hashed out by the Leadership Team and school administration, Hurtado said, noting that staff and teachers haven't had time to give input.
But Riley hopes the school agrees to a march that leads students out of classrooms at 10 a.m. March 14 to the school blacktop or soccer field to give a forum for students to share their thoughts on the national discussion.
Hurtado said she hopes the students do their research and fact-check so their concerns are taken more seriously.
"I'm thinking within the next week we'll probably have a plan that's agreeable to students, staff and parents, and is respectful to everyone," Hurtado said.