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Student arrested on suspicion of Berkeley High mass shooting, bomb plot

Berkeley High School. Credit: Nancy Rubin

A 16-year-old Berkeley High student turned himself in to police this week following an investigation into a tip that he had been recruiting other students to participate in a mass shooting and bombing at BHS, authorities report.

Limited information was available Wednesday afternoon when the Berkeley Police Department announced the arrest, but police say they seized “parts to explosives and assault rifles, several knives, and electronic items that could be used to create additional weapons” at the boy’s Berkeley home during a search May 22.

The student, whose name was not released by police because he is a minor, was arrested on suspicion of possessing destructive device materials and threatening to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury, according to BPD. As of Wednesday, he remained in custody at Alameda County’s Juvenile Hall in San Leandro.

The investigation began May 21 when the department got a tip about the boy’s efforts to convince other students “to participate in a school shooting at Berkeley High School that included explosives,” BPD said in a statement prepared.

Officer Byron White, Berkeley police spokesperson, said he could not comment at this time as to what form the recruitment took, how many other students may have been contacted or what the possible motivation for the attack might have been.

Patrol officers worked quickly to get a warrant to search the boy’s home, BPD said. During the May 22 search, BPD also “arranged for the City’s Mobile Crisis Team to evaluate the teen,” according to the statement. The boy was home during the search but he was not arrested at that time.

The next day, investigators from BPD’s Youth Services Unit took over the case, BPD said. Detectives spoke to witnesses, reviewed evidence, conferred with other law enforcement agencies including the California Highway Patrol, and got a warrant for the student’s arrest.

BPD also communicated with Berkeley High and Berkeley Unified staff “to keep them apprised of any safety-critical information,” police said Wednesday.

The student did not attend school in the days that followed the search and the boy’s family retained legal counsel, BPD said.

On Thursday, police went to the student’s home to arrest him, but he was not there, White said. Four days later, on Monday afternoon, he surrendered himself at the Berkeley Police Department.

The teenager was ultimately taken to Juvenile Hall, White said. Now, the Alameda County district attorney’s office is considering whether to file charges in the matter.

White said he was unable to share whether the student had ever taken weapons to school or taken action beyond trying to involve peers.

“The simple fact of him having these items is a concern for us,” White said Wednesday.

White said the case had drawn particular concern from authorities in light of last week’s school shooting in Texas, which left 19 children and two teachers dead. That incident followed the May 14 mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, which killed 10 people.

He said police were grateful to those who had spoken up to alert them about what was going on. BPD still hopes to speak with anyone who might have additional information that relates, he said.

The case remains under investigation.

“For all the parents out there, this is an excellent time to speak with your teen about what it means to stay safe,” White said. “If you see some type of violence, such as an active shooter, get out of the area or find a safe space.”

In its statement, BPD emphasized that school safety continues to be a top priority for the department.

“As part of that commitment, the Department has a School Resource Officer assigned to Berkeley High School who regularly liaises with school and safety personnel. In addition to the School Resource Officer,” BPD wrote, “all officers have access to a range of training and equipment that provide them the protection, skills and ability to rapidly respond to in-progress violence.”

BUSD says counseling will be available Thursday

Just before 5 pm Wednesday, BUSD released its own statement about the student’s arrest and said it had been in “very close contact with BPD” as the situation unfolded.

“Throughout the investigation period, we were assured that this individual did not pose an immediate threat to the Berkeley High School community,” Superintendent Brent Stephens wrote. “In particular, we relied on the expertise of BPD in their assessment of any ongoing risk to our school community after police confiscated what they describe as parts of weapons. We were also in steady communication with police about the whereabouts of this student.”

BUSD said it also “alerted our administrative and security staff about this investigation and, as is our standard practice, maintained close contact with our BPD School Resource Officer on the Berkeley High School campus.”

The district said it will conduct its own investigation into the facts of the case and, based on the evidence, pursue “all possible steps, including discipline, that will support student and community safety.”

Read more: BUSD resources related to how to discuss violence with youth

News of the arrest comes on the heels of a shooting at Civic Center Park just last week that wounded a 17-year-old Berkeley High student.

“We know this incident, as well as the shooting at Civic Center last week, may result in our students and staff feeling anxious and upset,” Stephens wrote. “We will have counseling available at Berkeley High School and all BUSD K-12 schools tomorrow. I encourage our students and staff to reach out for support.”

BPD asks anyone with relevant information about the investigation to call the Youth Services Unit at 510-981-5715.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated just after publication to include comments from BUSD and also to clarify that police said they found “parts to” weapons rather than entire explosives and assault rifles. We regret the error and thank our careful readers for flagging the omission, which was unintentional.

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