Assistant Who Barricaded Students Had “Mental Meltdown”: Sister

Linda Lira faces 28 felony counts, accused of locking students in a classroom, taking her clothes off and upending desks

The woman suspected of barricading 14 students into a classroom and fighting staff was experiencing a mental breakdown, her sister told NBC 7 Friday.

Linda Lira, 31, was taken to the hospital Wednesday evening after some strange behavior at Lemon Grove Academy. The after-care assistant locked herself in a room with the students, ranging in age from nine to 11 years old.

When staff intervened, Lira fought them, undressed and dressed again, upended desks and threw things around the room, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

The suspect’s sister, Cathy Lira, said she had never seen that kind of behavior from Lira before, though she had been making some strange comments recently.

"She did start talking about like Lucifer. She had like three days like that, just mentioning that and some warriors were protecting her,” said Cathy, “but we were like, maybe she's just changing religion, that they're just putting this in her head?”

Deputies who responded to the school thought Lira was on drugs, so they told Cathy and her family to pick the woman up at the hospital and get her some help. They gave her a citation for being under the influence.

But the sister said doctors discovered Lira had no drugs in her system. “She was clean. She was just having a mental meltdown,” said Cathy.

Officials allowed the suspect to go home with her family to rest for the night. According to Cathy, Lira did not remember the incident the next morning.

She planned to return to the school to pick up her purse, which was left behind in the scuffle. But when Lira arrived on campus, deputies were waiting to take her into custody Thursday. The arrest came as a complete surprise to her family.

“They didn’t tell us nothing. They just told us to get help for her. That’s all they did,” said Cathy.

Lira is being held at Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility for 28 counts of felony child endangerment and false imprisonment. Her bail is $2.1 million.

Her sister is still trying to understand what happened and what caused her to break down. She fears Lira will not get the help she needs behind bars.

"I can say from everything, she's the best aunt to my daughter,” said Cathy through tears. “That was her baby too. That's why I know she would not have done that to those kids."

Lira has declined an interview request from NBC 7. She is scheduled to be arraigned on March 30.

At Lemon Grove Academy, administrators gathered parents of all the victims and told them what happened Wednesday. They also brought counselors to campus in case students needed to talk about the incident.

“Even as a parent, you’re still scared. You’re still concerned because they have these episodes and sometimes it could hurt children or staff or other people,” said Veronica Valle, whose child goes to the school.

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