At 10:30 on the night of October 26th, the scary facade of Great America’s Halloween Haunt turned into a chilling reality when a group of teenagers ran around the park stealing personal items, and, in some cases, punching park-goers and even threatening them with tasers. According to Santa Clara Police Lt. Dan Moreno, there have been 15 reports of theft, ranging from strong-arm robberies to purse snatchings, four assaults, and one public intoxication case. At one point during the chaos someone began screaming (incorrectly) that there was an armed shooter loose in the park. Dispatchers immediately began fielding many calls about an active shooting. This rumor rapidly spread through social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, leading to fear and hysteria as Great America patrons hurriedly exited the park. Among these park-goers were several Washington High School students, including Dilshaan Bhullar and his friends, who were directed to exit the haunted house they were currently inside. They ran down a long pathway and climbed an extremely high gate—which they then jumped off of to get out of the park. After this, they were instructed to run three additional blocks to a hall where they were considered “safe”to wait for their rides. Dilshaan criticized Great America Security and the Santa Clara Police Department’s handling of the situation, saying “I heard none of the emergency exits were open and they were all locked. So a bunch of people were locked inside.” He said, “They didn’t handle it well at all.” To date, there have only been two arrests after this incident. A minor was arrested for suspicion of theft, and a mother by the name of Laticia Saxtan, 44, was arrested for three felonies: corporal injury to a child, assault causing bodily injury, and assault with a stun gun after she used her stun gun on a 16 year old girl who was engaged in a fight with Saxtan’s own teenage daughter. Police are still trying to identify the remaining robbery suspects.
Two days after the Great America incident, on October 28th, Washington High School’s athletes also experienced a robbery. Around 6:00PM, varsity football players returned to their locker room to discover their backpacks open and their personal belongings scattered about. At first, they thought the JV players were pranking them; however, varsity player Andres Robles noticed that his and two other teammates’ phones were stolen along with cash. “So then we started to realize that this wasn’t a prank,” he said. When the football players figured out what had really happened, they used an app called “Find my iPhone” to locate one of the player’s stolen phones. That led them to the parking lot by Tak Fudenna Stadium. Coach Edwards went with the players to the parking lot where they found the robber in his car. When they spoke to him he claimed to have a gun in the trunk. The football team returned to the locker room to call the police and told them about the robber and the possibility that he might be armed. The robber drove away before the police arrived, but the football players were able to provide them with a physical description of the suspect as well as his license plate number. Not long after, the police received an additional call about a possible armed person near Washington High School. They searched the area, including the gym. Destiny Bustamante, a varsity basketball player said, “All of a sudden these police came in with their guns and told us to get out right now.” The team did not know what was going on and hurried out of the gym. Once the police were sure that there was no armed person on campus, both teams were allowed to resume practice or go home. This investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made so far.
Similar to what happened at Great America, the calls about an armed person near Washington turned out to be false alarms as a result of rumors spread through social media posts. When asked about social media’s role in both robberies, Officer Gilfoy, Washington’s Student Resource Officer, said, “Social media is good because everyone has a voice. It is also bad because everyone has a voice.” He compared social media to the game of telephone, where information can be falsely added or even left out entirely. Misunderstandings like these were the cause of unnecessary panic at both Great America and WHS. Officer Gilfoy also addressed what we should do if there is ever an armed person on Washington’s campus after school hours. He said, “Call 911 and be aware of your surroundings.” He also advises us to use the “Run, Hide, Fight” method that all students in the district are taught.
Ashley Tosh was born and raised in Fremont, California. This is her second year at the paper, and she is the Hatchet’s Editor in Chief. As a staff reporter last year, she often covered news and sports stories, and she always tried to find topics she was passionate about to report on. She was also The Hatchet’s Political Columnist. In the future, Tosh hopes to become a professional journalist and use her voice to make a difference in the world. Tosh has played sports her entire life, but she has a special love for softball. She dreams of playing softball in college, and uses this to motivate her in every aspect of life.