Students, parents and teachers at a California high school community are expressing unease this week after it emerged that administrators – following instructions from police – kept them in the dark about classmates who allegedly were linked to violent MS-13 activity, a report says.
The community at Panorama High School told the Los Angeles Times they received few to no details until prosecutors last week announced murder and racketeering charges against 22 suspected members of an MS-13 clique in the Los Angeles area. Six Panorama students, the newspaper adds, were detained in February 2018 with no explanation. They are now linked to the off-campus killings of a classmate and another individual allegedly carried out by the clique, investigators revealed.
"I was just concerned that the gag order by the [Los Angeles Unified School District] and LAPD could endanger students," Vincent Nicoletti, a former teacher there, told the Los Angeles Times.
A law enforcement official who spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity said MS-13 had a “sizeable presence” at Panorama High School, but declined to give a specific number of members believed to be connected to students there.
The killing of 16-year-old student Brayan Andino – one of seven murders that prosecutors allege members of the MS-13 clique are responsible for -- happened in October 2017.
The district released no information about the death or its investigation for more than 20 months, officials said, because police had asked them to keep it under wraps.
Administrators "consistently and proactively asked the LAPD whether information about various developments could be shared with Panorama students and staff," a district spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times. "We were advised that we were not to provide information publicly because of the ongoing investigation."
Capt. William P. Hayes, the commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division, says the reasoning was that police “were concerned about the flight risk of suspects and the loss of critical information."
Nicoletti told the Los Angeles Times that he called a detective in May of last year to find out what was going on after hearing details about Andino’s death.
Prosecutors and police, according to the newspaper, say Andino was lured by a female classmate to Lake Balboa Park before being beaten and stabbed to death and having his remains dumped in a canyon.
Nicoletti claims the day after he reached out to police, school officials suspended him for “interfering with the investigation.”
Hayes says police weighed his concern about the effects of instating a gag order, but ended up not telling anything to the community because no one else at Panorama High School was believed to be in danger.
"None of the murders or crimes were occurring on campus," he told the Los Angeles Times. "It was all off-campus stuff."
But students and parents at Panorama Monday say they should have been notified.
The school, a 16-year-old junior told the Los Angeles Times, "should have told us what was going on."
A parent whose daughter attends a privately-operated charter school on the Panorama campus added that “it makes me a little more cautious as to what I want to do next year."
One of Andino’s former teachers, Lorena Medina, also told the Los Angeles Times that "I sensed there was fear among the students because no one could speak about it."