SOUTH WHITTIER — A student who argued with a teacher at a South Whittier high school over a set of headphones in class allegedly threatened to “shoot up the campus,” leading to a search of the student’s home and the discovery of a cache of weapons, authorities said Feb. 21.
The alleged threat at El Camino High School occurred Feb. 16, two days after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said investigators responded to a report by Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District Resource Officer Marino Chavez, who overheard the student threatening that “he was going to shoot up the school sometime in the next three weeks.”
“Deputies learned that the 17-year-old had an extensive discipline history at the school,” McDonnell said. “They also learned that a Smith & Wesson semi-automatic weapon was registered to his home address.”
Deputies served a warrant at the student’s home in Norwalk, and found two AR-15 rifles, two handguns and 90 high-capacity ammunition magazines, McDonnell said.
According to the sheriff, the teen’s 28-year-old brother Daniel Barcenas — an Army veteran — claimed ownership of the weapons. One of the AR-15 rifles was registered to the older brother, but the other was unregistered, “which in California is a felony,” McDonnell said.
The teen was arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats. His name was not released due to his age. His brother was arrested on charges including possession of an assault weapon, import of high-capacity magazines, criminal storage of firearms and failure to register a personal handgun.
He was being held on $108,000 bail, and was tentatively scheduled to appear in court Feb. 22 in Bellflower.
Robert Jacobsen, an attorney for the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District, told reporters the student got into an argument with a teacher over a set of headphones. A short time later, the school security officer allegedly overheard the student making threatening remarks.
“The safety officer did engage the student and the student did comment that in three weeks he was going to bring a gun to school,” indicating he was going to “shoot up the campus,” Jacobsen said.
No weapons were found on the student at the time, officials said.
The security officer notified school officials, who contacted the Sheriff’s Department.
Chavez told reporters the teen remarked “that within three weeks there would be a school shooting on campus.”
“He did say that he was just kidding, that he did not mean it,” Chavez said. “I said, ‘Well, you can’t say those things on a school campus.’”
Chavez said he took the teen to the school’s office, where he confirmed the remark, prompting Chavez to contact the Sheriff’s Department.
“He was angry with the teacher’s issue about his [earphones] in class and he was not allowed to go to her class the next day, so he was supposed to go to the office,” Chavez said.
The Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District posted a statement on its website regarding the incident.
“The Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District is continuing to confer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on the circumstances of the recent school threat involving a 17-year-old student at El Camino High School, our continuation school,” the statement said.
“We care about the safety of all of our students, their families and the school community at large. We responded quickly and effectively when we first learned about the potentially dangerous threat that was made by the student and contacted law enforcement immediately. Our policy is to always act with an abundance of caution when it comes to student welfare matters.
“We regularly review our emergency plans for each of our school sites,” the statement continued. “These plans include preparations for and responses to natural disasters, but also for intruders and threats on campus. In addition, we conduct safety drills regularly and collaborate with local law enforcement to ensure our sites are secure.
“We want our students — as well as teachers and staff — to report any observed suspicious behavior to law enforcement or district officials, as appropriate. As the saying goes — if you see something, say something. This will help ensure a prompt and appropriate response.
“We will remain vigilant in our efforts to make sure that we are doing everything possible when it comes to safety and security for our entire school community.”