PASADENA - Schools took extra precautions on campuses Friday as shaken parents rushed to pick up their children following the massacre of elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut.
As a extra precaution, Pasadena police Chief Phillip Sanchez said law enforcement would remain alert near schools.
Sanchez said the department is "conspicuously aware" of threats faced at both public and private schools.
"We are not immune to violence," Sanchez said. "We consistently work with public and private school partners in conducting security checks even if it something like having visitors check in at the front desk."
At Jefferson Elementary School on East Villa Street in Pasadena, the campus went into a lockdown procedure Friday afternoon as classes let out for the day.
"It's always on your mind, and it's human nature to think that it could happen here," said David Davis, the emergency preparedness manager at Pasadena Unified School District.
School officials directed parents to pick up their children at two locations. No one except students, teachers and administrators were allowed on school grounds.
"We have supervision at every gate and teachers are escorting students out and making sure they get to their parent," Principal Amin Oria said.
Some students at Jefferson were visibly upset as they waited to be picked up. The school had told students there had been violence elsewhere in the nation, but didn't share details. News had nevertheless spread through cell phones, parents and peers.
"Because of the timing, we haven't had a lot of time to speak to the students," Oria said, "and because it is the weekend, most parents will probably share what is comfortable with their child."
Jefferson parent Luz Maria Castillo called the Connecticut shooting scary, but was satisfied with the security measures in place at her children's school.
"I think this school is safe," she said, noting that Oria had sent a phone message to parents 15 minutes earlier.
PUSD also requested extra patrols by law enforcement near campuses and reminded the community that every school is a closed campus, requiring visitors to enter through the school office.
Elementary campuses conduct safety drills for various scenarios, including fires and threats, at least once per month, Davis said.
"The younger ones are more well-versed," he said.
The tactics employed in mass shootings have changed over the years, Sanchez said.
In the past, the strategy was to get people out of the location as fast as possible, but the lesson learned in the wake of the 2008 Virginia Tech tragedy altered the way law enforcement manages mass shootings.
More often, people are told to "shelter in place."
"What it allows you to do is to know the environment you are in," Sanchez said. "You can lay low, lock the door. It buys you enough time for law enforcement to arrive."
Pasadena Unified has a shelter in place policy, and put it into practice during a gun scare at Muir High School in May. A student was seen with a weapon that turned out to be an Airsoft gun.
Guns are prohibited on PUSD campuses, and can lead to suspension or expulsion.
Other school districts in the area also have lockdown, shelter-in-place and closed campus policies.
Teachers and administrators at San Gabriel Unified School participated in "active shooter" training this summer.
"We rely a lot on the police and their guidance," Superintendent David Yoshihara said.
Lockdown situations aren't uncommon at schools, but they're often in reaction to something happening in a nearby community rather than a threat on campus, Duarte Assistant Superintendent Miriam Fox said.
She hadn't heard of any concerns by parents, but a Los Angeles Sheriff's resource officer was available at each school Friday.
"We sent out some general tips for principals to be shared with staff about these types of situations," Fox said.
Many parents simply wanted to share their grief about Connecticut.
"People are really taken by this tragedy," Monrovia Superintendent Linda Wagner said. "People are stopping by schools much more than usual today, and they want share their concern in general about these kids."
In Alhambra, Laurel Bear of the district's Gateway to Success program said there is a focus on mental health among students, staff and parents, which she said is essential to keeping a save and successful environment.
"We focus constantly on mental health," Bear said. "Our kids need to be in a good place emotionally and socially and it is critical for them to reach their academic potential."
Preventing tragedies through guidance is a goal of the Pasadena Human Relations Commission, which has worked with PUSD for 16 years to address societal problems before they erupt, chair Nat Nehdar said, by addressing bullying, stress, hate and violence.
"There are always ways to build a relationship as a role model," he said. "I wish to God there were more parents getting involved on a day-to-day basis."
Staff Writers Brian Charles and Lauren Gold contributed to this story.