McKinley Elementary School was locked down Tuesday, the second time in a week, when a man carrying a sledgehammer reportedly tried to jump the schoolyard fence, according to authorities.
The man died after suffering cardiac arrest, Long Beach Fire Department spokesperson Jake Heflin said. Authorities said they could not immediately provide details on what may have caused the person to go into cardiac arrest. No students or school staff were harmed.
Long Beach police said officers were called around 2:27 p.m. to respond to a home invasion robbery in the 6700 block of Orizaba Avenue, but on arriving, they were directed to McKinley Elementary, a few blocks away.
A man with a small sledgehammer who prompted the police response had climbed a fence into the school parking lot and was trying to get over a second fence onto school grounds, according to information on the police department website. Then, the man “was pulled down and detained by a group of male adults. At some point, he became unresponsive.”
Officers approached and handcuffed the man, but once they realized he wasn’t responding, they began providing medical aid, according to police. Firefighters then arrived and determined the man was dead.
Due to the incident, parents had to wait until later in the afternoon to pick up their children, and kids had been told not to use their phones, so they couldn’t let parents know they were safe, said Johanna Chavarria, whose 8-year-old son attends McKinley.
Chavarria and Maria Garcia, a Head Start teacher at the school, both said they’d heard someone subdued the man as he tried to scale the fence to the playground where older children were at recess.
Chavarria and Garcia said they felt frustrated and left in the dark by school officials. An email sent to parents gave few details about what happened but said, “Our school remains safe and will maintain a normal schedule tomorrow, though you may see additional safety personnel and other precautionary measures on campus.”
In an email to the Long Beach Post, Long Beach Unified School District spokesperson Evelyn Somoza said, “McKinley Elementary School was locked down at about 2:45 p.m. today because of a medical emergency in the school’s parking lot that resulted in an individual’s passing. Students and staff at the school remained safe. The lockdown was lifted at about 3:20 p.m.”
At a meeting after the lockdown with district staff, Garcia said she told them, “We’ve been in school 13 days and already we’ve had two lockdowns. I want to know what are you guys gonna do to keep us safe?”
The earlier lockdown on Sept. 13 was triggered by a man outside the school fence reportedly pointing a gun at an 8-year-old girl, police said last week; they arrested a suspect in connection with that incident but did not find a weapon.
Counseling will be available to staff and students, Somoza said, but she was unable to comment further because of the ongoing police investigation.
Long Beach police said the Los Angeles County Department of the Medical Examiner will determine what caused the man’s death Tuesday. Because he was handcuffed, police are investigating it as an in-custody death.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 8:19 p.m. with more information from police.