Students at Lindhurst High School in Olivehurst, Calif., were scheduled to resume classes this week, 10 days after a Lindhurst dropout allegedly terrorized staff and students in a violent rampage, killing four, wounding nine, and holding dozens of others hostage for more than eight hours.
Eric Houston, age 20, pleaded not guilty last Monday to 4 counts of first-degree murder, 9 counts of attempted murder, and 1 count of hostage-taking.
Charles O’Rourke, district attorney for Yuba County, said he would seek the death penalty in the case.
The incident was the worst episode of violence on school property since Patrick Purdy killed five students, wounded 30 others, and then killed himself on a schoolyard in Stockton, Calif., on Jan. 17, 1989, according to a spokesman for the National School Safety Center.
According to reports, Mr. Houston, dressed in camouflage clothing, walked into the school just before 2 P.M. on May 1 while students were changing classes.
The former Lindhurst student, reportedly carrying a 12-gauge shotgun and a .22-caliber rifle, was said to have entered the first-floor classroom of his former history teacher, Robert Brens. He allegedly shot and killed Mr. Brens and a junior, Judy Davis, during a class discussion about the ongoing riots following the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles.
Mr. Houston then began moving through the halls of the building shooting randomly, eventually taking approximately 80 students hostage on the second floor, according to Yuba County Sheriff Gary Tindel.
Killed during the shooting were Beamon Hill, a sophomore, and Jason White, a senior.
Some of the hostages reported that Mr. Houston told them he was seeking revenge because he had failed Mr. Brens’s history class and was unable to graduate with his class. The other victims apparently were random targets, according to school officials.
Around 5 P.M. that day, hostage negotiators from the Sacramento office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation established contact with Mr. Houston, who later began gradually releasing hostages in small groups, according to Mr. Tindel. Over the course of the evening, some 80 other students hiding on the first floor managed to escape.
When Mr. Houston surrendered around 10:30 P.M. that night, the 20 remaining hostages were freed, said Peter Pillsbury, the district superintendent.
A Traumatized Community
Last week, almost all of the wounded students had been released from the hospital, according to David Favro, the district’s personnel director. One male student remained in serious condition with a severe head wound.
The incident has traumatized Olivehurst, a farming community of 10,000 located about 45 miles north of Sacramento. With 1,200 students, Lindhurst is one of three high schools in the Marysville Joint Unified School District.
“I’ve seen people move through grief, through anger like I’ve never seen before,’' Mr. Pillsbury said.
Mental-health professionals from San Joaquin County who had counseled students and faculty involved in the Stockton incident arrived the night of the shootings to provide guidance to local Yuba County mental-health workers.
Following their advice, Mr. Pillsbury immediately formed a committee of school staff members and county social-service workers. The group met daily to coordinate the response to the event.
Over the weekend following the killings, mental-health workers conducted workshops for the staff of Lindhurst and surrounding schools on how to help both themselves and their students cope with the aftereffects of the violence.
The school opened its doors on the Monday immediately after the incident to provide counseling services to students, parents, and community members. About 300 students attended at various points in the day, according to Mr. Pillsbury.
Last Wednesday, Pat Busher, the principal of Stockton’s Cleveland Elementary School, met with Lindhurst’s principal, Ron Ward, to discuss her school’s response to the 1989 tragedy.
Classes and the school prom were canceled last week to provide time for grieving and counseling, as well as to repair the extensive structural damage wrought by the numerous shotgun blasts, Mr. Favro said.
In the days since then, Mr. Pillsbury said he has seen students, parents, and community members “getting ready to fight back.’'
“I now see a growing determination to turn this around and re-establish a great high school,’' he said.
A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 1992 edition of Education Week as Classes To Resume at California School Where Gunman Killed 4 and Wounded 9