San Gabriel Elementary School in Atascadero was evacuated before the start of classes on Friday and remained closed throughout the day as officers from local, state and federal agencies investigated threatening letters found on the campus and a suspicious object left on the playground.
By late afternoon, law enforcement personnel said no one was harmed but that no suspects had been identified. Authorities continued to investigate the incident that started at 7:45 a.m. when the Atascadero Police Department received a report from the school of a possible threat on the campus at 8500 San Gabriel Road.
School officials quickly evacuated the campus, moving any staff and students on the grounds to Hope Lutheran Church and then to Santa Rosa Academic Academy for parents to pick them up, according to a voice recording on the school phone.
The Atascadero police and fire departments cordoned off the area around the school and also evacuated residents from nearby homes. Multiple agencies arrived, including the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, California State Parks, Atascadero State Hospital police, county Hazardous Materials Team, Sheriff’s Bomb Task Force, county Probation Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the FBI.
The object on the playground was “one that we were concerned about,” Atascadero police Chief Jerel Haley said, “and the school was evacuated very quickly thereafter.”
The notes, he said, “were suspicious enough in nature that we felt that the safety of our students, the safety of the faculty, and residents in the area were potentially in jeopardy.”
He declined to discuss the contents of the notes or describe the object, which was removed by the Bomb Task Force and the hazmat team.
The Atascadero Unified School District issued a statement by midmorning saying the campus would be closed all day.
“Prior to the start of school, students, staff and community members were not allowed to enter San Gabriel Elementary School,” the statement said. “This is a precautionary measure in order to maintain the highest degree of safety for all our students, staff and community members.”
Other schools in the area also were inspected but nothing suspicious was found, police said. “The incident appears to be isolated to the San Gabriel school campus, and no ongoing threat has been identified,” Haley said in a news release.
During the evacuation, some school staff members were instructed to leave without personal belongings or their vehicles. At 5 p.m., they were still unable to retrieve them, Haley said.
Part of San Gabriel Road near the school remained closed and was not expected to reopen until Friday night.
“There’s still a lot of investigation that has to take place,” Haley said.
The Atascadero school district did not return repeated calls for comment or to advise whether school would reopen Monday.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call the Atascadero Police Department at 461-5051.