What Went Right

Published: October 7, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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Why is it that so many good stories – the ones where some impending tragedy is prevented – rarely make broadcast news?

I could be sitting here writing about another school shooting if not for the intervention of some alert students who didn’t hesitate to act.

This story began with an email from friend and former San Francisco vascular surgeon John Baldwin.

We Came Very Close…

“We are at SandCastle [nickname for his house up the coast] …while here, the news broke that a [mass shooting] plot existed at our high school, Summerville. It made the NY Times and in Sonora/Twain was/is headlines. Don’t know kids yet, but when we get home will know more as Jeannie knows many high school parents.

“As far as I know, it is the FIRST interception of something like this in America. The planners, 4 kids under 18, had names of students and teachers to be shot and used email, text messages and also confessed. They were all arrested and out of the county in detention. They were intercepted by other students who were trusting of administration and law enforcement and reported suspicious conversations and rumors, which turned out to be true.”

As reported by The New York Times (Oct. 5), “The four, all students at Summerville High School in Tuolumne, Calif., ‘were going to come on campus and shoot and kill as many people as possible at the campus,’ Sheriff James W. Mele of Tuolumne County said at a news conference on Saturday.

Sheriff Mele said that “the suspects’ plans were very detailed in nature and included names of would-be victims, locations and methods in which the plan was to be carried out.” The four students “were in the process of trying to obtain… weapons” for their plan.” …

And here’s the heroic part.

“Officials said,” The Times writes, “the plot was foiled on Wednesday when a group of students alerted a teacher after they overheard three of the four discussing a plan to open fire on the school. The teacher immediately told school administrators, who quickly removed the three from their classrooms and called the police, said Robert Griffith, the superintendent of the Summerville Union High School District.

“Sheriff Mele said the fourth suspect had been identified during the investigation. ‘Within two to three minutes, those administrators got up out of their seat, recognizing the severity of the information that they received, and were in the classroom pulling those students out,” Mr. Griffith said at the news conference.’

“An ‘immediate’ search of the students’ lockers by administrators turned up no weapons, Mr. Griffith said, ‘so within a very, very short period of time we knew that we did not have an immediate threat to safety.’

“Nevertheless, Sheriff Mele said the plot had been ‘pretty doggone close’ to fruition.

“The students were ordered to leave the school that day, and their parents were notified and are cooperating in the investigation, he said. He praised the parents for their help during ‘a very trying time’ for their families and called their assistance ‘a key element’ in foiling the plot.”

A recent report from resident Baldwin mentioned that “There was a parents’ meeting the other evening, SRO, at which the [school district] superintendent, sheriff and principal answered questions.

“Of course there were those who criticized the school for allowing the three initial perps to take the bus home Wednesday before getting the sheriff/detectives in for the overwhelming factual evidence which is airtight. The school answered, ‘We only had the verbal reports from the other students, and no evidence. That came later that day when the sheriff’s detectives went to kids’ homes, search warrants, etc and obtained confessions.’ …

“This is a truly REMARKABLE stop of an event which could have been of real magnitude. So far there has been no release of weapons planned, names of targeted victims or the event.”

Sadly, we have reached a point where the country is overwhelmed with mass shootings at schools around the country, and, as the small population of Tuolumne City (1,779) demonstrates, it can happen anywhere.

In the days and weeks that follow, I hope the students involved in exposing the plot are not only acknowledged for their sense of duty to their community, but we have an opportunity to hear their story.

Their actions serve as a reminder that all of us need to be alert to any suspicious talk, texting, or behavior. As a World War II poster advised: “Are YOU doing all you can?”


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