As the investigation continues into who left threatening letters and a suspicious object at San Gabriel Elementary School last Friday, Atascadero police are interviewing anyone with a connection to the school: former employees, full- and part-time staff, and anyone involved in a major renovation project that started over the summer.
“We’re doing interviews on campus, at houses, in parking lots,” Atascadero police Cmdr. Joe Allen said. “We’re interviewing people wherever we’re finding them. They started last week, and we might end up with 100 more this week.”
Police haven’t identified a person or group responsible for the incident, which closed San Gabriel Elementary after the letters and object were discovered before classes started that morning.
Police also are looking for videos of any vehicles driving around town or near the school between late Thursday evening and Friday morning.
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There are no cameras on San Gabriel Elementary’s campus, Allen said. Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Tom Butler said district staff is researching the pros and cons of adding security cameras to school campuses.
The school’s approximately 570 students have been attending class since Monday at one of three other campuses in Atascadero and Santa Margarita. Those classroom locations and transportation will remain the same until further notice, the district said in a statement Tuesday.
District officials said attendance, which dropped Monday to about two-thirds of San Gabriel students, was “approaching customary levels” Tuesday.
In order to show support for San Gabriel Elementary, all district students and staff are encouraged to wear “gator green” on Wednesday.
“We’re up into the 80 percent level,” Butler said. “It shows that there’s a lot of confidence, and we anticipate that attendance will continue to increase.”
No additional information was expected to be released Tuesday on the suspicious object found near the school’s playground, which contained a liquid that tested positive for a dangerous chemical substance.
Allen said the substance was sent out of the area so the FBI can conduct additional testing. Doing so is a top priority for that agency, Allen said, but it’s unknown when results will be available.
“We just know it’s being considered a dangerous substance until it’s been proved otherwise,” he said.
There was no indication that the substance was spread across campus, but because the threatening letters were found all over campus, Allen said, Atascadero district administrators hired a certified environmental monitoring service to thoroughly examine the interior and exterior of the school.
District officials are awaiting lab results from that examination before reopening the school. Butler said he didn’t know how long it would take to receive the results. The contracted company has completed an on-site examination and is now testing a large number of samples.
“We want to be wise and thoughtful about this, and since we’re doing such a wonderful job educating the children, there’s no point in rushing past this step,” he said. “I want to feel 100 percent confidence that the classroom environments are safe.”
Allen wouldn’t say whether the letters found on campus were addressed to individuals, but he said they were left outside all of the more than 20 classrooms on campus. The classroom doors were locked, and law enforcement did not find any evidence that anyone entered the classrooms, he said.
“We’re not sure what this person’s motive is yet,” Allen said, adding that police do not know how many people were involved.
“We don’t know if this person is doing this randomly or targeting employees at one school,” he added. “To try to combat that, we have people checking school campuses at night and making our presence known.”
In addition, officers are showing up to schools around the city at the start and end of each school day.
“We do believe we’re going to figure out who’s responsible,” he said. “We have a belief that whoever did this is going to thrive on the notoriety of it all, but we’d like to give them three meals and a place to sleep.”