State

Merced County school band buses shot at

At least one shooter using a pellet or BB gun smashed out the windows of four buses carrying band students from several Merced County high schools Saturday night.

Officials with the California Highway Patrol said no one was injured.

The buses were traveling from a band competition in the Santa Cruz area when the shootings occurred on Highway 152 near San Luis Reservoir. The buses pulled over at the Romero Visitors Center on the county's West Side and called police just before 9 p.m., the CHP said.

"It sounds like we've had several of our buses shot at in some fashion and some windows came out," Raynee Daley, an assistant superintendent with the Merced Union High School District, said in a phone interview late Saturday. "Our kids are home safe. The buses have unloaded and everyone is safe."

Daley said the students attend Merced, Golden Valley, Buhach Colony and Atwater high schools.

The annual Santa Cruz Band Review drew more than 50 high school and junior high bands from the valley and Northern California. Bands scheduled to compete included Oakdale High, Central Valley High in Ceres and Escalon High.

Officials with the CHP weren't sure how many shooters might have been involved and said Sunday afternoon that no one had been arrested. They said in a news release that the shootings appeared to be "an isolated incident" and that the projectiles probably were fired from a vehicle traveling in the same direction as the buses.

"It is unknown at this time if the attacks were targeting specific buses or simply crimes of opportunity," the CHP said.

Several buses in the caravan weren't hit.

Drivers from the buses that were struck stayed behind to provide statements to investigators, Daley said.

Students were loaded onto other buses in the group, then taken back to their schools, she said.

District administrators were waiting at each high school to meet students and answer parents' questions.

"Some of the students were pretty shaken up but they all handled the situation very well," Robert Hillhouse, Merced High's band director, said Sunday. "The important thing is that everyone is safe."

Hillhouse said Merced High School had two buses in the caravan but only one was hit.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine contributed to this report.

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