Gun scare closes L.V. high school

Posted April 27, 2007
Christina Carter
Bonita High School closed on April 20 due to a potential threat to students after the disappearance on April 19 of 17-year-old student Matthew Wanamaker. Wanamaker was found Saturday at an Ontario motel after he took a safe containing five guns along with $1,000 cash from his family’s home. Three adults were also detained in connection with the case.

On the eve of the eighth anniversary of the Columbine shootings last Thursday, the parents of 17-year-old Matthew Wanamaker reported to the La Verne Police Department that their son was missing and their gun safe containing loaded rifles, handguns and $1,000 in cash was also missing.

News of this led local school district officials to their decision to close Bonita High School for the day last Friday.

So close in time to the massacre at Virginia Tech at the beginning of the week and the anniversary of Columbine, Bonita Unified School District officials did not want to take any chances.

“I had a talk with the chief of the La Verne Police Department and that’s when he recommended to close school on Friday,” said Bob Ketterling, principal of Bonita High School.

William Brinegar, a district assistant superintendent, said this was the safest decision they could make with limited information.

“The threat towards Bonita High was (made in) passing, a direct threat was not made,” said Detective Dan Grabowski of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in San Dimas.

Late Saturday night the search for Wanamaker came to an end when he was found in an Ontario motel.

“At this moment he will only be charged with burglary,” Grabowski said.

Ketterling would not say how the school district would discipline Wanamaker.

Along with Wanamaker, three other people were questioned by police in connection with last week’s incident.

Kimberly Valazza, 44, Shane Saucedo, 24, of Rancho Cucamonga and Kent Bonilla, 23, of Fontana were held by police on suspicion of receiving stolen property.

Wanamaker’s troubles seemed to have started last spring when former Allen Elementary School teacher Deborah Lynn Pence, 47, pleaded no contest for having sex with the then high school sophomore.

Pence was given five years probation and had to register as a sex offender; however, she is not currently listed in the Megan’s Law database.

In what seemed to have been a dramatic whirlwind for Wanamaker, according to his parents, Wanamaker was a victim of circumstance.

As for Bonita High School and the school district, they are working to improve communication skills and communication capabilities among students, faculty and the La Verne Police Department.

They are also working on instructing teachers and faculty to detect signs of emotional troubles in students and to respond appropriately.

Within the next few weeks they will be reviewing the situation and how the district, police department and high school faculty dealt with it.

Their main focus will be on how faculty discussed the situation with the kids of the Bonita High and how they can improve any flaws that were found.

Allison Farole can be reached at afarole@ulv.edu.

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