SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Sophomore Andrew Vanmeter had just left his chemistry class and was walking to his locker in the 900 wing of Antioch High School when he noticed something strange.
People in the hallway around me were coughing, the 15-year-old said. I inhaled whatever it was and started coughing, too; it just tasted really strong and sweet. After that, they evacuated the campus.
A chemical scare police suspect was a Halloween prank sent 22 students to Sutter Delta Medical Center, John Muir Medical Center in Concord and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Walnut Creek on Wednesday morning with watery eyes and burning throats. The 9:57 a.m. incident prompted a county hazardous material team to clear about 2,400 people from the campus.
The evacuees — many of whom were dressed in Halloween costumes — assembled in an adjacent parking lot across the street from the campus at 700 W. 18th St. Police said about 30 students were treated at the scene for various symptoms.
Vanmeter received treatment for lightheadedness and tightness in the chest.
Notifications were sent to all area hospitals, Contra Costa Fire Battalion Chief Dave George said. The county hazmat team found nothing — just more an odor than anything else. The interesting thing is you had fire and ambulance paramedics evaluating Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Superman, skeletons … it was interesting to see all the characters. It was a little different.
Antiochpolice Capt. Steve McConnell said investigators believe the incident was a Halloween prank gone bad.
The chemical appears to be a moderate irritant, similar to pepper spray, McConnell said. The irritation to the eyes and respiration that people had is what you d expect when exposed to pepper spray.
McConnell said investigators believe the chemical was released inside a classroom and spilled into the hallway when students left the class. The substance dissipated before investigators could identify it. The school was deemed safe for classes to resume at 11:47 a.m. Police are pursuing several leads and say they are confident the prankster will be caught.
This is an assault, McConnell said. He dispersed a chemical agent and could be facing felony charges. There is also the possible civil recourse, which will be up to the parents and families stuck with medical bills. I hope the school district takes severe action against the person responsible.
Although 125 parents eventually showed up to pick up their children, students were admitted back to class shortly after 1 p.m.Simon Read covers Antioch. Reach him at 925-779-7166 or [email protected]