Police / Fire

Hollister School District meeting goes on lockdown following hoax calls

Attendees remain calm as law enforcement conducts building search and evacuation.
Superintendent Diego Ochoa informing everyone of what was thought to be unfolding outside and that they were to stay put. Photo by John Chadwell.
People began to huddle in groups during the lockdown. Photo by John Chadwell.
Photo by John Chadwell.
People wait to be escorted to their cars. Photo by John Chadwell.
When a car pulled into parking lot, police approached it with weapons drawn. Photo by John Chadwell.
Sheriff's deputy guarding front entrance. Photo by John Chadwell.
Text from Supervisor Mark Medina. Photo by John Chadwell.
Text from Supervisor Mark Medina. Photo by John Chadwell.
Follow-up message on Facebook. Photo by John Chadwell.
Hollister Police Chief David Westrick's response on Facebook the next day. Photo by John Chadwell.

What police believe to be hoax phone calls about an active shooter caused the Feb. 12 Hollister School District Board of Trustees meeting to go on lockdown. As of Feb. 13, no one has been identified in connection with the hoax.

“There’s a person in the vicinity with a weapon, a shotgun, so we’re going to lock these doors and we’re all going to stay here,” Superintendent Diego Ochoa calmly told everyone at the meeting shortly before law enforcement showed up.

Everything changed in an instant as the audience went from listening to school reports to barricading the meeting room.

At the meeting, trustee Rob Bernosky showed BenitoLink a text message on his phone he received from Supervisor Mark Medina. It read, “I just saw this on Facebook Male with a shotgun called 911 and says he shot someone Hollister School District Office.”

Inside though, no one had heard a shot.

For about an hour, the 30 people at the meeting sat huddled in the room with the lights off. People were discouraged from using cell phones, to avoid the risk of giving away their location. Hollister Police Department officers and San Benito County Sheriff’s deputies guarded the building’s front and side entrances while others searched outside in the belief that someone with a shotgun might be out there.

Everyone remained calm, but there was concern about what to do as meeting attendee voices overlapped. Everyone stayed calm as they remained hidden behind room partitions and upturned tables.

Twenty minutes into the lockdown, more heavily armed police officers entered the meeting room and asked questions about cell phones. They questioned whether the calls (there were now two) had come from inside the Hollister School District office. They also asked whether anyone was aware of threats against the district or individuals, or if there might be a disgruntled employee.

One person said it had been two months since anyone had been fired. Another said there was a conflict with a nearby neighbor. A woman was overheard saying she had been in an argument with someone, but that it was weeks ago.

Because cell phones were turned off or stashed away in pockets, most in the room were not aware of a second Facebook post that said: “Update: Male just called back and said if the board members didn’t get out of the meeting, he is going to start killing people.”

As police continued searching outside, officers inside the building executed a plan to get everyone out. Supervisor Ochoa spoke to BenitoLink as people lined up near the door where three officers stood with their weapons at the ready.

“Our focus is to work with law enforcement to make sure everyone who is at our meeting is safe; to ensure employees and community members know that our district has counseling services available that we’ll be deploying out to those folks to make sure their needs are met in the days ahead,” Ochoa said.

Officers escorted people to their cars in singles and pairs. A couple of Hollister School District employees went last in order to wait and see if the area was clear before locking the buildings.

One of those employees was Gabe Moulaison, Hollister School District assistant superintendent of business services. He told BenitoLink that senior management stayed behind to make sure everyone was taken care of. He added that the district has an active-shooter procedure, but described what took place as a slightly different situation from what people train for.

“This was officers coming in saying they got this call, so lock down,” he said. “We do have the procedures in place, it’s just that this unfolded differently. Normally, you’d hear shots and everyone would lock down. Everyone knows that drill. This caught everyone off guard because the police came in and told everyone to shelter in place.”

As police escorted BenitoLink out, several officers patrolled around the building. Ambulances and fire trucks were lined up along Union Street.

Hollister Police Chief David Westrick posted about the hoax incident on Facebook the next morning.

“It was nice to get a call from Hollister School District Superintendent Ochoa last night thanking me for our officers’ response and subsequent actions with the hoax/swatting call at the school board meeting,” Westrick said in the post.

As of Feb. 13, there was no word from Hollister police if anyone had been identified or apprehended in connection with the hoax calls.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]