In Partnership with 74

The 10 violent incidents at LAUSD schools that prompted stricter metal detector monitoring

Mike Szymanski | November 1, 2017

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)


It took a series of violent crimes on and near school campuses to spur LA Unified’s strict policy requiring every secondary school conduct random daily metal detector searches.

Daily searches have been required for more than six years, but the policy is now being reevaluated as the district called this year for principals to step up the searches.

Before the early 1990s, most crimes involving LA Unified students happened just off campus, such as the 1980 shooting just across the street from Washington High School where a student died in the arms of George McKenna, who is now on the school board. The killing was featured in a TV movie about McKenna starring Denzel Washington.

Off-campus violence just outside LA Unified schools killed five students and wounded 11 between 1991 and 1992. They included a cheerleader killed by gang crossfire just off Paramount High’s campus, three teens injured near Venice High when gang fighting erupted, and a student wounded by gunfire while waiting for a bus outside Westchester High.

School officials at the time had been considering metal detectors at school entrances and random searches but had not instituted them, as they debated how to do it equitably and district-wide.

Then came the first on-campus fatality, at Fairfax High.

Here are the 10 violent incidents that led to the current school policy, as cited by the LA Unified School Police Department last week in a presentation to the school board during a meeting to discuss the daily search requirements.

• Jan. 21, 1993. A student died at Fairfax High when a .357 magnum went off in the backpack of a junior high school student attending classes at the school, who said he was handling the gun inside the backpack when it fired. Demetrius Rice, 16, was killed and another student was injured. It was the first time an LA Unified student had been killed inside a classroom.

The incident prompted LA Unified to start using metal detectors at schools, and a State Assembly bill was passed allocating $1.5 million to buy metal wanding devices for all secondary schools in the state.

• Feb. 22, 1993. Less than three weeks after the Fairfax High incident, a Reseda High football player shot a classmate to death in a busy school corridor.

The district stepped up searches on campuses, purchasing 250 more metal detectors at a cost of $30,000.

 May 26, 1998A student brought a kitchen knife to school and stabbed and seriously injured another boy during an eighth-grade “Fun Day” event at Walter Reed Middle School.

In the fall of 1998, LA Unified passed a written policy requiring searches at all schools and recommending that those searches be conducted daily.

June 6, 2006. Another student death at Venice High School. A 17-year-old student was shot and killed after a fistfight spread to a campus parking lot.

March 23, 2007. A 17-year-old student was stabbed to death by another student in the quad area of Washington Prep High School.

Sept. 19, 2008. A 12-year-old girl and a 19-year-old former student were injured in a gang-related shooting in a parking lot at Washington Prep High after a football game.

Jan. 18, 2011. Two students were wounded in an accidental shooting at Gardena High when a gun went off in a backpack. A 17-year-old suspect was arrested an hour later. Friends of the suspect said he had brought the gun to school for his own protection.

By April 2011, the district required all middle and high schools to conduct daily searches. This was the last time changes were made to the district’s policy by a vote of the school board.

Sept. 30, 2011. A female dean who was also a teacher, along with two students, were stabbed at South East High after an argument broke out between a boy and a girl during lunch.

Jan. 23, 2015. A 14-year-old was stabbed to death by a 13-year-old while leaving Griffith Middle School.

In October 2015, the policy was revised by the superintendent, allowing small high schools with satellite campuses to be exempt from checking students daily.  

March 17, 2016. A student was injured at Bridge Street Elementary School when an 11-year-old stabbed him with a pocket knife.

LA Unified is in the process of reviewing the policy on random searches, prompted by a mandate to principals to increase the searches based on an internal report last spring, continued violent incidents at schools locally and nationally, and calls from civil rights organizations to end the policy.

*This article has been updated to correct why the junior high school student was at Fairfax High, and correct the school named in the incident on Sept. 30, 2011.

• Read more on LAUSD’s random searches and school safety:

Exclusive: More kids will be searched for weapons at LAUSD schools this year

Daily weapons searches: LAUSD to reassess its policy

More weapons found on or near LAUSD campuses last year; rifles and shotguns more than doubled

Student voices on random weapons searches at LAUSD schools — feeling safe, or a waste of time

Exclusive: Loaded gun found at school during random wanding search; charters want practice ended

Calls mount to end mandatory random searches at LA schools

Exclusive: How safe are LA’s schools? New interactive map compares what teachers and students are seeing

Here’s how to use the interactive map on school climate in LA schools

East LA shines in new school climate map. Advocates credit intensive community investment but say there’s more to do.

Read Next