Ten years after a stand-off

Educators seek to reconcile with a woman who once held them hostage

Ten years ago today (Thursday, Dec. 13), John Mealley and Jorge Salas shared a frightening experience that changed their lives forever.

That morning—it was Friday the 13th—a 14-year-old girl brought a loaded pistol to Chico Junior High School, where Mealley was principal and Salas a counselor. During teacher Rachel LeDuc’s first-period English class, she brandished it in a threatening way.

Two students edged out the door and ran screaming down the hallway. “Somebody has a gun in Mrs. LeDuc’s class,” one of them yelled.

Salas ran to the classroom. When he entered, the girl trained the gun on him. He raised his hands, palms forward in a gesture of non-aggression, saying, “I’m here to help. We’re here to help.” Staring into the pistol, he could see a chambered bullet. He thought of his two young children at home.

By this time the girl had let all the students go except one, a boy. It turned out she’d had an unrequited crush on him, but that was just one of the many factors, including being bullied by classmates, that had led to this moment.

She was crying and threatening to shoot herself. Sometimes, with shaking hands, she would put the gun to her head, sometimes in her mouth. And sometimes she would point it at Salas and the others in the room.

Meanwhile, Mealley went on the school’s public-address system and announced a code red lockdown, ordering all to stay in their classrooms.

Then he gathered his nerve and entered LeDuc’s classroom. The girl pointed the gun at him, but only for a while. She knew him well: He’d been her principal for five years, first at Rosedale and then Chico Junior. Like Salas, he tried to calm her by reassuring her that everything would be OK.

He wasn’t sure about that, however. He thought of trying to overpower her, but the boy was in the way.

That’s when the boy turned to her and, softly calling her name, said, “If you do this, I’m really going to miss you.” The girl, who was sitting on the floor, her back against a wall, stood up, walked over to him and put the gun in his hands.

The stand-off was over.

LeDuc took a year off after the incident, but she has since died of brain cancer. Mealley and Salas have stayed in touch, even after Mealley retired five years ago. They get together every Friday the 13th and every December 13th. They are the only people who know what they went through on Dec. 13, 2002.

This year they’re trying to locate the girl. The last they heard she was living in a group home, but that was years ago. They want to reconcile with her, tell her they forgive her.

I can’t publish her name because she was a child when the incident occurred, but hundreds of her fellow students know who she is. Some may know where she now lives. They can reach Mealley at jkmealley@gmail.com and Salas at jsalas@chicousd.org.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.