By Emma Limor ’21
Both the Middle School and the Upper School closed on Feb. 24 after receiving a security threat from former student and NFL player, Jonathan Martin ’08. Students and faculty received an alert from the Harvard-Westlake School Emergency Notification System about the school closure at 7:14 a.m. that day. Those who were already on campus were moved into designated areas that were supervised and protected by LAPD. After all people on campus were moved to secure areas, students were able to be picked up by their guardians.
Because the notification for the closure was sent out at 7:14 a.m., many students were already either at school or on the bus heading to school, while others were still sleeping; therefore, each person experienced a different situation throughout the day.
“I got on the bus as though it was a usual Friday morning when my mom and dad both started to call me. At this point we hadn’t left my stop, so when I learned the news, I immediately told the people around me, and then we got off the bus. It was a really close call for me because if I had stayed on the bus, I would’ve had to go to school and then wait there,” Natalie Phillips ’21 said.
Following the sudden closure, President and Head of School Rick Commons sent a message out to the school community at 1:09 p.m. to provide more information about what had happened. His message revealed that the former student had posted a disturbing and threatening graphic on social media and was placed in police custody. He also said that the school would continue to work closely with the police. Subsequently, as the threat began to diminish, students began to share not only on their experiences, but their opinions on the issue of violence as well.
“I was only at the Upper School for 30 minutes after the announcement, but they were the fastest and slowest minutes of my life. I can’t describe how much I wanted to go home. … I sensed a tension throughout the entire time. We didn’t know if there was an active threat. There was an unspoken truth that if there was an active shooter, we might not be going home, doing the things we dreamed of, or if we do, our friends might not. Throughout the rest of the day I could not stop thinking of what could have happened. Overall, I hope that at least after this, people come to realize that the issue of gun violence is not dependent on political, geographical or wealth lines. This is something that can and will affect everyone,” Abraham Gallardo ’20 said.
Due to the immediacy of the situation, many students said that they were in complete shock that stories of school security threats seen on the news could happen to anyone, even in the safe environment of the school.
Overall, the school safety threat served as a gateway for a wider discussion on the culture of violence and the effects of bullying. Throughout the week, support groups have been available to students and staff members during break to help work through this experience and to deliberate about the greater, underlying issues. Students are engaging in discourse about gun violence and discussing ways to prevent bullying within the school environment and incidents of school violence. During the meeting on Tuesday, students shared their opinions on the recent events.
“However scary our threat may have been, it really opened our eyes to the true horror of the incidents related to guns that have been going on in recent times,” Claire Wacziarg ’21 said.