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Tragedy raised security at Yuba-Sutter high schools
Lindhurst shooting 20 years later
Anyone who approaches Lindhurst High School today is stopped hundreds of feet from administration buildings and classrooms and asked about their business on campus.
It's the only one of eight high schools in Yuba-Sutter to use such a procedure. It's also the only campus where a shooting claimed the life of a teacher and three students 20 years ago, leaving horrific scars and memories in the community and standing as a reminder of campus vulnerability.
On that May 1, 1992, day when former student Eric Houston walked onto the Lindhurst campus with bullets strapped to his chest and a sawed-off rifle in his arms, one of the first teachers to encounter him only asked if he had a gun permit. He ignored her and walked into C Building, killing four, wounding 10 and holding more than 80 students hostage for 8 1⁄2 hours.
Two decades later, the terror of that day still resonates with Yuba-Sutter educators, and they hope school safety measures now in place would prevent another tragedy.
"These kinds of things are the guiding forces," said Bruce Morton, director of student welfare for Yuba City Unified.
After every shooting at a school, the district examines what it can learn, and it partners with Yuba City Police Department to maximize its safety efforts, Morton said. For nearly two decades, two gun-carrying school resource officers have been assigned to Yuba City and River Valley high schools, and probation officers are at both high schools and Gray Avenue Middle School.
The officers meet monthly with the Su ter County Sheriff's Department and gang task force to communicate about campuses, whether gangs, drugs or mentally or emotionally struggling students, and try to identify threats before they turn dangerous. Students are taken to mental health for evaluation and homes have been searched for weapons at the slightest indicator of potential dangerous activity, said resource officer Charles Earnst, who is assigned to River Valley.
"There is no way to measure our intervention or what it prevented," he said. "We probably have stopped some and we'll never know."
For the last 11⁄2 years, the district's monthly safety committee meetings have focused on the possibility of campus intruders. They have learned — whether through Jeffrey Carney, a Yuba City man who threatened a Virginia Tech-type shooting massacre in 2007, or from a February shooting a few blocks from Yuba City High School that left three people dead — threats can happen anywhere at any time.
In both situations, Yuba City High School followed lockdown protocol. Teachers can lock doors from inside, cover windows and have supplies for extended periods of time, and phone notifications go to parents in a matter of minutes.
While procedure decades ago may have been for first-on-scene officers to wait for backup, that is no longer the case, Earnst said.
"Those old days, those old ways are out," he said. "We are not going to wait for the SWAT team. If I have a shooter on campus, I am going to engage. We can't afford to wait."
Yuba County Sheriff Steve Durfor said the Lindhurst shooting is among the first he remembers where law enforcement pursued the shooter immediately. He knows because he was with them.
"Twenty years later, we all carry the gravity and the weight of the tragedy this community faced," Durfor said. "Not a day goes by that we do not reflect on what happened."
For the last several years, the regional SWAT team trains at schools after hours to familiarize themselves with campuses, and school blueprints have been distributed to law enforcement. Though no particular deputies are assigned to the schools, they have a strong and frequent presence, Durfor said, and he encourages people to report potential threats.
"Don't ever dismiss those as something innocuous or meaningless — though we pray that it is — because we want to aggressively follow up," he said.
Marysville Joint Unified School District has always been concerned and cautious with regard to safety, but the Lindhurst shooting elevated that awareness, said Superintendent Gay Todd.
All schools have comprehensive emergency action plans, and security guards are posted at Lindhurst, Marysville and Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts to keep a watchful eye over all campus comings and goings.
"We opt to err on the side of being overly cautious," Todd said.
The Youth Violence Project by the University of Virginia reports school homicides have been on the decline since 1993. Between the worst 10-year period, from 1992-2002, a student came onto school property and killed someone an average of 9.3 times a year in a nation averaging nearly 100,000 schools.
It may sound like educators and law enforcement a devote lot of time, effort and resources to prevent what likely has a small chance of occurring, educators said, but preparedness is better than the alternative.
Todd, who was working for the district in 1992, said the Lindhurst tragedy affected the entire community.
"I know they have carried kind of a scar in their heart because of that incident," she said. "It was a very sad time for all of us, so certainly we do want to make sure that never happens again."
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at email@example.com or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.