As soon as students arrived at Riverside’s Castle View Elementary for the first day of class since Halloween, when a parent held a first-grade teacher hostage for hours until he was fatally shot by police, their nervousness transformed into broad smiles and high fives.

Their previous day at school may have been terrifying, but Monday, Nov. 6, was a day of celebration.

As they arrived on campus, students and parents walked through rows of students from other schools bearing welcoming messages, high-fived smiling greeters, and accepted teddy bears with miniature T-shirts reading “Castle View Courage.”

Whether told through teddy bears or hugs, the message was uniform: You’re loved.

The welcome turned around the emotion of the day, said parent Michelle Gifford as she dropped off her two children.

“Although it’s a tragedy, the thing that makes me cry is seeing everyone come together,” Gifford said. “The good outweighs the bad.”

Gifford brought a gift of her own: cupcakes.

They were for the Halloween parties that many teachers had planned for last Tuesday, until celebrations were cut short by the call for a lockdown, the evacuation and then four days without class.

“A lot of the teachers are having their Halloween parties today,” Gifford said, something she hoped would help children return to normal.

“They’re doing great,” she said of her own children. “The younger kids have it easier than the older kids, who saw the guns and the police. … Everyone is excited to be back.”

Out of 676 students enrolled at Castle View, 663 came to school Tuesday. That attendance figure of 98 percent is typical for the school, said Kiersten Frausto, director of elementary education for the Riverside Unified School District.

Late Halloween morning, Luvelle Monroe Kennon Jr., 27, held veteran teacher Linda Montgomery for six hours inside a classroom forcing the evacuation of the elementary school. No children were hurt in the standoff.

Montgomery’s family issued a statement Monday thanking many groups, praying for healing and expressing her own emotions.

“I am grateful for the love, support and care that I have received from my family. I am thankful that no children at Castle View were injured. I feel compassion for Mr. Kennon’s daughter, a student in my class, and for her family during their healing process as they cope with this tragedy,” the statement said.

Office staff, sitting behind a long desk, had told Kennon not to enter the campus. But he ignored them and went through an unlocked glass door on the north side of the office. The door is unlocked all day, district officials said, because the door not only allows visitors to enter the campus, but it also serves as the entry to the office for students.

Monday, the fence next to the school’s front office was filled with cards and balloons with welcoming messages. Other signs were hung from the eaves or planted in the lawn to show solidarity from other schools: “Castle View Courage.” “Wolves Support Dragons.” “Kings Heart Castle View.”

The goal is to show the children that everyone around supports them, said Vincent Miller, one of several high school students holding a sign that declared Arlington High School loves Castle View and cheering as students approached.

“I felt like it’s important to make them feel safe at school,” Miller said. “School’s a place that you come to feel welcomed, not scared.”

The community support made him proud, he added.

“I think it’s pretty awesome that everyone comes out to support them, and students come out and welcome them back,” he said.

The support was similar to what community members showed when students returned to North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino after a shooting there left two adults and an 8-year-old child dead in April.

Students said they appreciated the support and were happy to return.

“I was kind of nervous, but I’m glad to be back,” said student Zach Halam. “I love Castle View.”

The days after the barricade were difficult, but he had attended counseling at Taft Elementary School in Riverside and now felt better, he said.

Riverside police and firefighters were also on scene to help welcome students.

“We want to show we’re right there with you and we’re going to be with you the whole time,” Officer Ryan Railsback, the department spokesman, said as he held a teddy bear. “They have the support of the school, counselors, but also public safety and the community.”

 

In 2013, the school board approved spending $885,000 to install better fences and entries at seven elementary schools — including Castle View — and one high school. At Castle View, a 3-foot-high chain link fence was replaced with one 6 feet high, and a gate for people with mobility issues was replaced with a gate with locks.

As school and district officials consider what changes to make, parents were happy for a welcome return.

A group of parents formed a prayer circle, giving thanks and praying for their children, school staff, first responders and a softening of hearts.

In all, it made a day that could have been scary much different, said parent Roseann Ornelas.

“They’re making it a good day,” Ornelas said.

Castle View Elementary students return to school.
SCNG