A joint Orange County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) and Orange County Schools (OCS) timeline reports that Cedar Ridge High School's principal and two school resource officers (SRO’s) waited to inform OCS district administration and OCSO command level staff of graffitied threats in a girls’ bathroom until four days after the first recorded threat had been discovered.
“This has been a very confusing situation,” OCSO Director of Public Information and Special Services Alicia Stemper said in an interview. “There were multiple bathrooms in question on multiple floors and many different accounts, so we got everyone together in the same room [on Friday] and put together a timeline.”
According to the joint timeline and statement compiled by OCSO and OCS and released on Friday, Cedar Ridge Principal Intisar Hamidullah found graffiti in the girls’ bathroom early on May 20. The graffiti threatened a school shooting followed by a suicide on May 29.
Hamidullah reported the graffiti to SRO Corporal Richmond, who photographed it. Custodial staff then removed the graffiti, and neither Hamidullah nor Richmond took the matter further.
On May 24, a student told Hamidullah that she saw graffiti in the same bathroom where the previous threat had been written. According to the joint timeline, these threats looked remarkably similar to the ones removed earlier in the week.
Hamidullah alerted Deputy Faircloth, another SRO, and indicated that this was the third or fourth time that this type of writing had been found. Faircloth photographed the graffiti at 1:11 p.m. No district administration or OCSO command staff were notified of the graffiti at this time.
On May 24, another student photographed the graffiti, and showed the photo to her mother after school. The mother called 911 and OCSO Deputy Chavez Mendez responded at 6:16 p.m. Mendez called Richmond. According to the timeline, the SRO, who was on vacation, incorrectly assumed that Mendez was referring to the May 20 instance of graffiti and assured the deputy that staff had been aware of the graffiti since four days earlier, and said he was unsure as to why the graffiti was still up.
According to the timeline, both Mendez and Richmond incorrectly assumed that only one instance of graffiti was being discussed.
At approximately 7 p.m. on May 24, after the 911 call, Hamidullah began alerting district administrators to the threat found earlier that day and the administrators opened an investigation.
At 7:20 p.m., OCSO Lieutenant Tina Sykes, who supervises the SRO’s, was notified of the graffiti found on Friday for the first time.
“I am concerned that officers under my command failed to report these threats to their superiors,” OCSO Sheriff Charles Blackwood said in the joint statement. “Regardless of what action a school principal is taking in response to a threat, it is violation of our policy for a deputy not to immediately report any threat to the safety of our students and school system personnel to his or her superior officer. We take great pride in our training and our safety protocols. This failure on our part is unconscionable.”
The joint statement said that Blackwood “regrets the misunderstanding” between Richmond and Mendez, but “recognizes how circumstances led to communication that was less than precise.”
Over Memorial Day weekend, OCSO and OCS staff prepared for Cedar Ridge students’ return to school after the holiday. Particular attention was paid to May 29, the date singled out by the threats.
Custodial staff removed the graffiti for the second time on May 28. The threats had been etched into the metal bathroom wall and remained faintly visible after the cleaning. The words were then sanded off the wall.
Also on May 28, Faircloth began reviewing video footage and working with school administration to determine a timeline for the writing of the graffiti and a list of students who had accessed the bathroom. Additional deputies were on site throughout the day. Several students were interviewed, and parents were then notified of the threat discovered on May 24.
“We train our staff to understand the protocols and procedures around safety, but it is clear our expectations were not met this time.” OCS Superintendent Todd Wirt said. “We rely on our school principal to take the lead to protect our children, and without a doubt we must do better.”
Multiple law enforcement agencies were on scene at Cedar Ridge on May 29, the date mentioned in the threats.
“There are other protocols followed in situations like this, but aside from the added law enforcement these protocols are mostly confidential,” OCS Chief Communications Officer Seth Stephens said in an interview. “We’ve handled situations similar to this at Cedar Ridge earlier this year and take any and every threat seriously.”
On Thursday, a similar threat of school violence was found in a boys’ bathroom stall at Cedar Ridge. It was removed immediately and a joint OCSO and OCS investigation is ongoing. Blackwood has authorized a $1,000 cash reward for any person coming forward with information leading to the successful arrest and prosecution of the person responsible for the threats.
On Friday, investigators continued the investigation, conducting interviews and determining possible suspects.
“Investigators will continue working with this information to bring the case to a safe conclusion,” Blackwood said. “This kind of threat causes disruption to student activities and creates heightened anxiety at a time when students should be free to focus on upcoming exams and successfully concluding the school year. Threats to their ability to do so will be taken seriously and prosecuted to the fullest extent.”