Three students at Fallbrook High School (FHS) were arrested Friday and the campus was placed on lockdown after photo showing a student posing with a gun inside a school bathroom made its rounds on social media.
Hours later, deputies found the loaded firearm at the school, hidden in a classroom. No one was hurt.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department (SDSO) said three male students were detained and later arrested on suspicion of bringing the gun to school: two 15-year-old students and a 14-year-old.
At 1:20 p.m., once deputies had found the weapon and arrested the teenagers involved in the case, FHS posted an update on Facebook saying the lockdown had been lifted. School was dismissed early.
"The sheriff's department and Fallbrook High School worked together to safely resolve the situation," the school's Facebook post read. "The lockdown has been lifted. School is dismissed for the day. Buses are here now. School will resume on Monday. Counselors and support staff will be available for students who may need them. We thank parents and the community for their patience as we dealt with this delicate situation."
The ordeal at the campus in San Diego's North County began around 10 a.m. when SDSO officials got a phone call from the school's principal who told authorities that the alarming social media post had been brought to his attention by other students who had seen the photo online.
The picture showed a student holding a gun in the restroom at the school.
Deputies quickly arrived, securing and locking down the campus. They launched an investigation and searched school grounds for the weapon seen in the photograph. Aerial footage showed several SDSO vehicles parked at the school during the lockdown.
Soon, the high school issued an alert, saying the campus lockdown had been implemented out of an abundance of caution. The alert said all students and staff were safe and no one was injured.
During the lockdown and investigation, deputies detained three students and were able to confirm that a gun had been brought onto the campus -- they just had to find it.
With some information on where that weapon might be, at 12:45 p.m., the SDSO said deputies and detectives were actively searching the school to track down the gun. K-9s trained in weapon detection helped with the search.
Amid the tense situation, the SDSO had this message for parents: Students are safe. They are not in danger. Students will be released at the end of the school day.”
The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) posted about the incident on its Twitter page, too, saying: "Fallbrook High implemented a lock down protection protocol based on a pic of a firearm posted on social media. Law enforcement is on site."
Ultimately, officials found the handgun in a classroom, SDSO public information officer Ryan Keim said. The weapon was loaded.
FHS freshman Taylor Evans, 15, told NBC 7 she was in the library with friends and faculty during the lockdown.
“At first, I thought it was a drill. I was kind of nervous,” she told NBC 7.
Then, she started seeing posts from her peers on SnapChat talking about the photo of the student with the gun and she knew this was not a drill.
“I thought it would never happen,” she said.
Taylor sent a text message to her mom to tell her what was happening. Throughout the morning, her mom sent her updates about what deputies were doing on campus.
Eventually, her mom texted her that the lockdown was being lifted and her dad was coming to pick her up. Hours later, even with deputies securing and clearing the school, Taylor said she still felt scared.
Her father, Terry Evans, was also shaken up by the incident. Both of his kids attend FHS, Taylor and his son, who is a junior.
Terry said both of his kids were texting him and his wife during the lockdown, which made the situation a little bit easier, since they knew their kids were safe.
Still, Terry said they couldn’t help but worry all morning about what could’ve happened.
“[I was] scared to death – for the safety of not only my children, but the children that go to Fallbrook High School,” he told NBC 7. “It’s very unnerving to get a text message from your daughter and son saying there’s a gun on campus. You’re scared to death, at that point, for their safety.”
“You don’t know what could happen. You’re just praying that your kids are safe,” he added.
Keim said this was a case that shows how closely the school districts work with the sheriff's department in emergency situations. He also said the students who reported the alarming photo to school faculty did the right thing.
"We're very proud of the students who saw something, and said something," said Keim. "We continually stress that if you see something suspicious, you tell us. They immediately did; contacted school staff who were able to alert us."
Keim said the SDSO takes any threat to school safety extremely seriously.
"This illustrates what happens when everyone works together -- and quickly," he added.
Terry said he will use this instance to remind his kids to be “hyper-vigilant” of their surroundings and report anything suspicious to school faculty.
The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with details about the social media post that sparked the lockdown can call the SDSO’s “Students Speaking Out” hotline at (888) 580-8477 or the SDSO at (858) 565-5200.
Established in 1893, FHS is located at 2400 South Stage Coach Ln. and is the second oldest high school in San Diego County. It is part of the Fallbrook Union High School District (FUHSD) and serves students in grades nine through 12.
The FUHSD posted a message to Twitter thanking parents and the sheriff's department for their help on such a difficult day.
"The safety of your teenager is our #1 priority," the district added.