Devin Walski was carrying his cello to music practice at Catherine Everett Elementary on Tuesday afternoon when he noticed a woman standing in the school's play area. She was holding a knife, and her curly blond hair and flower skirt were covered in blood. She was cutting her head.
The sixth-grader said the image will give him nightmares for weeks.
"We saw the lady. She was, like, bleeding to death," Devin said after being released from school 90 minutes after the Modesto campus of 490 students and 50 staff was locked down near the end of the school day.
Classes will resume today, and police and mental health officers will be on campus to address any fears, especially those of students.
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"I was afraid for all my friends in my classroom and the whole school and the little kids," Devin said. Sixth-graders also were outside playing kickball for PE class when the woman made her way onto the field.
Soon after Devin, 11, and two of his classmates saw the woman, they heard yard duty supervisor Trent Greer yell at them to get inside the school office. They ran inside. Office staff called 911 shortly after 2 p.m.
The unidentified woman had walked onto the campus. School officials distracted her while students were ushered indoors. When police arrived, the woman charged at them, they said. Police then shot her, and she died at a Modesto hospital.
When the shots rang out, teachers told students to crouch under their desks.
Many parents unaware
Because the incident occurred shortly before school let out, many parents didn't know anything had happened until they arrived to pick up children. They were met with police cars and motorcycles in front of the school. Streets were cordoned off surrounding the campus.
"It was pretty scary, really," Principal Michael Brady told the growing crowd fenced off by yellow crime scene tape. He and acting Police Chief Mike Harden told parents that no students or staff were hurt and very few children saw what happened.
"We're trying to protect the crime scene, so we'll be releasing students classroom by classroom," Harden told parents.
The hundreds of parents, relatives and friends who gathered at Everett's front gate remained calm while they waited — some of them two hours — for the children to be released.
"I just want my kids out," said Rhiannon Green, mother of Dylan, 9, and Chase, 5. She said she will most likely keep her children home the rest of the week.
The only other lockdowns at Everett that Green could remember were caused by police activity in the area.
"It's a good neighborhood. I know when something like this happens, they lock up the kids and they're safe," Green said.
Relief washed over Green when she greeted her sons. She said they were nervous, but calmed down a few hours later.
"I hugged them and picked them up and kissed them. I cried almost," she said.
A tragic event such as Tuesday's no doubt leaves those who saw it shaken. But it's also likely to affect other students, parents and teachers.
"Something like this happens in a place that you want to believe is a zone of safety," said psychologist Phil Trompetter, who spent 30 years working with law enforcement agencies in Stanislaus County. "It breaches that assumption. It's pretty hard not to at least for awhile be pretty anxious about the safety of your child at school."
Talk with children
Trompetter said parents should be willing to discuss the event with their children. And they should watch for any change in behavior or demeanor that might signify the child is anxious.
Emotional reactions from students were mixed. Some were visibly shaken and crying, others seemed to take the event in stride — including Clint Priebe's son, fourth-grader C.J.
"He heard a bang and I told him that was a gunshot, but other than that, he had no idea what was going on. He knew they were on lockdown," Priebe said Tuesday night. "He's just fine."
School officials sent a mass phone message to parents about the lockdown before 3 p.m. and sent another Tuesday night after all children had been released. After police finished at the crime scene, school maintenance workers planned on staying into the night to clean the area for school today.
School officials were still compiling a timeline Tuesday night. A handful of staff and students were being counseled by staff, and many were grateful for the decisiveness shown by Greer, the yard duty supervisor.
"He didn't run away from it," said Marlin Sumpter, district director of child welfare and attendance.
Police, parents and students praised the quick and smooth response from school staff.
"This is exactly the type of situation that we practice for that requires immediate cooperation from our students and staff to move people into safe places," said Jim Pfaff, district director of state and federal programs.
Police will be on campus today to answer any parent questions or concerns. District and county mental health counselors will be on hand in case anyone needs to talk about Tuesday's events.
"We want to move forward with normal instruction, but there will be help for people who need it," Pfaff said.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra contributed to this report.