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Principal on leave after ‘upsetting’ active shooter drill at Southern California elementary school

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A school principal was put on administrative leave after witnesses said she held a disturbing active shooter drill at a San Gabriel elementary school.

The incident happened at Washington Elementary on Wednesday and involved Nina Denson, a woman who joined the school as principal in Fall 2023.

Children and parents are upset at what they say was an inappropriate series of actions by Denson during the lockdown drill.

“She proceeded to walk around campus and pretended to shoot people she saw using finger movements and banging on windows,” said Jennifer Chavez, a parent. “From what I heard, she said to one of the students, ‘Boom. You’re dead.’”

  • Nina Denson, principal placed on leave from Washington Elementary School in San Gabriel. (San Gabriel Unified School District)
  • Washington Elementary School in San Gabriel, California. (KTLA)
  • Washington Elementary School in San Gabriel, California. (KTLA)
  • Washington Elementary School in San Gabriel, California. (KTLA)

Some of the children who witnessed the principal’s actions were as young as 4 years old, parents said. 

“Oh he was really upset,” Chavez said of her son, who is in first grade. “The one shocking, surprising thing he said as a 6-year-old was, ‘I’m just really glad none of my friends died.’”

According to Jim Symonds, superintendent of the San Gabriel Unified School District, the safety drill was not authorized.

“This type of drill where a scenario was run is not approved by the district nor part of our district protocol,” Symonds confirmed.

After the drill, staff members claimed Denson then made an announcement saying seven children were dead.

“Can you imagine the trauma these children potentially could go through just thinking, ‘Oh my God, my friend was killed’ or ‘I was shot and told I died,’” said Anna Bustamante, a parent. “At the young age that these children are, it was very upsetting.”

District officials later sent an email to parents stating, “The conduct of the drill does not appear to have been in line with District protocols or best practices.” 

An investigation into the incident is underway, but some parents have already made up their minds and are calling for Denson to be removed from her role.

“I don’t want her back here at all,” said Chavez. “She does not have the trust of the community.”

Some staff members were also reportedly upset by the unauthorized drill. Officials told KTLA counselors were on school premises for any students or staff who may have needed those services. 

An email update sent to parents on Thursday confirmed a veteran teacher at Washington Elementary will be taking over as interim principal while the investigation continues.

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