El Camino student accused of threatening massacre

James Gustavo Lemus, 35, pled not guilty in Torrance court Tuesday, three weeks after he threatened to kill a teacher, administrators, parents and children on campus. Photo courtesy of the El Camino Police Department

James Gustavo Lemus, 35, pled not guilty in Torrance court Tuesday, three weeks after he threatened to kill a teacher, administrators, parents and children on campus. Photo courtesy of the El Camino Police Department

Updated: Nov. 25, 1 p.m. This story has been edited for clarity.

Updated: Oct. 21, 10:15 p.m.

Updated: Oct. 21, 8:30 p.m.

The 35-year-old student accused of threatening to kill a teacher, administrators, parents, and children planning to “make it look like (the) Santa Barbara shooting” on the Library Lawn had his first hearing today.

James Lemus pled not guilty at Torrance Courthouse. His bail was increased to $1.2 million and the distance in which he must stay away from EC was increased from 100 yards to 1,000 yards. Lemus’ bail was originally set at $152,000, according to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Inmate Information Center.

Lemus told Veterans Center employee Miriam Jauregui Sept. 30 “he was going to kill the Administrators of El Camino College, and named Dr (Francisco) Arce (Vice President of Academic Affairs) as one of them; he was going to create a massacre at the schools library lawn like the Santa Barbara shooting; and he was going to kill the parents of the children walking around on the campus, tie them up to pole’s or a wall and rip them to pieces (sic),” according to Officer Jeffrey Lewis’ police report in the first of two temporary restraining orders (TROs).

The first TRO protects Arce. The second TRO protects English instructor Leeanne Bergeron and “all employees of the El Camino Community College District,” according to the TRO.

Arce was the only person named by Lemus, but Arce said he found out about the threats “probably two days after the statement was made.” He added he didn’t know why there was a delay in notifying him about the threats.

EC Police Chief Michael Trevis said at a Humanities Division faculty meeting last week that a search was done of Lemus’ home and no weapons were found for him to carry out his threats.

“We are going to do a lot more with the campus to raise the bar,” Arce said at today’s Academic Senate meeting. “The best we can do is be aware and be vigilant.”

English professor Mary Ann Leiby who had Lemus in a class in the past, said at the faculty meeting Lemus often referred to the other students in the class as “children” because he was older than most of them.

Lemus told Jauregui Sept. 30 he “was raped at six years old and nobody did nothing to protect him” and that he has “been told that (he) need(s) to kill the parents of these children walking on campus, because they don’t know how to protect them,” according to Jauregui’s report in the TRO.

During his conversation with Jauregui, Lemus pointed to the Student Services Building and said “all the administrators that won’t take the time to understand I am right. I will let them know and kill them. I will make them feel like I feel,” according to Jauregui’s report.

Hours before he made the threats, Lemus wrote on his Facebook page, “Public violence in recent months, including the UCSB murders, and after three decades influence via the destructive programming, the objective of diverting negligence by public and professionals, parents and businesses in the surrounding community, continue their mistakes in hopes of concealing their association and contributions with the crimes. Now, ask my why your opinion matters (sic).”

On Oct. 1, after talking to Lemus’ mother, Lewis was able to talk to Lemus on the phone. Lemus told Lewis he was “afraid” and “began screaming over the phone at me and told me he couldn’t talk to me,” according to Lewis’ report.

When Lewis and his partner found Lemus outside a nearby home, Lemus initially listened to the officers’ orders, but began to pull away. Lemus “placed his foot into a metal fence to act as an anchor” and ripped Lewis’ shirt during the process, according to Lewis’ report.

Lemus’ mother walked outside and told the officers her son had been diagnosed as bipolar. She said his behavior “was somewhat manageable until he started using Methamphetamine a few years ago” but said he no longer uses it. During the process of taking Lemus into custody, a mini-torch was seen in his hand, according to the report.

After Lemus was taken into custody by ECPD, he was booked at a local hospital for a 72-hour mental evaluation. There, he told a doctor in the psychiatric ward he began “receiving messages” when he was 12 years old from the TV during breaks in programming, according to Lewis’ report.

Bill Mulrooney, director of admissions and records and Jauregui’s supervisor, reported the threats to ECPD 29 hours after Lemus made them. Mulrooney declined to comment.

Jauregui referred the Union to Espe Nieto, assistant director of admissions and records, who said she had no comment on the incident but added proper protocol for similar situations is notifying police immediately.

Jauregui later said she had “no explanation” for the delay in the reporting of the threats, adding she’s not the one involved in reporting to police. “I have nothing to share,” she said.

Jan Schaeffer, EC psychiatrist who had contact with Lemus in the past and has described him as “actively psychotic” according to the TRO, said in an email, “I am not available to discuss anything regarding the incident in question at this time.”

Trevis said on Oct. 7, seven days after the man made the threats, the campus hadn’t been alerted because there was no “credible threat.” According to the first restraining order filed Oct. 3 by EC’s attorney Michael Travis, the threat was credible.

Arce said the campus was safe because Lemus was being held at a facility and “everyone knew” where Lemus was after he made the threats.

Trevis attended the faculty meeting Oct. 14 to talk to instructors about the situation.

Most who spoke at the meeting were concerned ECPD had waited two weeks since the threats were made before addressing faculty.

“It is confusing to me that our faculty didn’t know about this,” Rachel Williams, English associate professor, said. “Faculty needed clearer information sooner than we had it.”

At the meeting, Trevis said an alert wasn’t set out through Nixle, the opt-in text message system that sends out alerts or advisories, because it is used for ongoing incidents or situations only. The day after the meeting, a Nixle alert went out about the incident, one that Trevis said was not ongoing because Lemus was being held at a facility.

On the same day the Nixle alert went out, 15 days after the threats were made, a campus advisory was sent out via email to faculty and students from ECPD about Lemus with his photo.

“There is no doubt we could do better,” Arce said of letting community members know about incidents. “There is no doubt we could do better to get information out to the college community. We’re going to improve.”

One focus to arise from this incident is safety concerns. At the faculty meeting, faculty members voiced their support for PA systems should an incident like an active shooter occur on campus.

The same faculty members also suggested new locks on classroom doors that allow locking doors from the inside, rather than putting themselves in harm’s way by locking the door from the hallway.

Williams added something more concerning than this specific incident is the clear lack of plans or ideas of what to do if an emergency were to occur on campus.

“In the time I’ve been here, we’ve never had a situation like this,” Williams said. “What I’m seeing is we don’t have a plan.”

Williams added she’s heard of committees being formed to put safety plans in place, but she thinks “there should be some sense of urgency.”

Another concern from this situation, faculty said, is providing help for the mentally ill. During the summer, Leiby went before the board of trustees to share her thoughts on the Health Center being closed during that time, a time she said she taught students who needed it. Then, she said she didn’t know what to tell her students who needed help.

Leiby said the college needs to be devoting more resources and those resources need to be readily available to students.

Arce also said he wants the college to focus on getting help for these students.

Leiby was one of the faculty members who supported the new locks on the doors at the meeting. “I’m very concerned about safety measures at the college,” Leiby said. “We should have steel doors. We should have windows that open.”

Leiby added that we usually see in emergency situations at colleges people taking safety measures and being notified of the situation.

“The faculty are justifiably upset,” Leiby said. “This situation brings up (discussion about) what the administration should be doing.”

A timeline of events:

– 10:45 a.m. Sept. 30: James Lemus voices threats to Veterans Center employee Miriam Jauregui

11:15 a.m. Sept. 30: Lemus attends a morning class in the Music Building

– 6 p.m. Sept. 30: Lemus attends an evening class in the Humanities Building

– 3:30 p.m. Oct. 1: EC Police Chief Michael Trevis tells an ECPD officer about the threats that were made

– Oct. 1: Two ECPD officers go to the address on Lemus’ school records and driver’s license. There’s no answer at the residence

– Oct. 1: The ECPD officers go to another address found for Lemus and locate him there. He’s taken into custody

– Oct. 1: Lemus is taken to a local hospital for a 72-hour mental evaluation

– Oct. 2: Vice President of Academic Affairs Francisco Arce tells Trevis he is aware of the threats made against his life, says he is in fear of his safety and the safety of his staff

Oct. 3: Temporary restraining order granted to protect Arce. Lemus must stay at least 100 yards away from Arce, his workplace, home, and vehicle

– Oct. 7: Temporary restraining order granted to protect English instructor Leeanne Bergeron and all employees of the El Camino Community College District

– 10:30 a.m. Oct. 7: Trevis tells the Union an EC student made “inappropriate comments” and is being held at a facility in Los Angeles. Trevis says no one has been alerted because there is no credible threat

– 11 p.m. Oct. 9: The Union breaks the story online

– Oct. 10: California Public Records Act requests are made to Ann Garten, director of community relations, and Trevis

– 1 p.m. Oct. 14: Trevis addresses faculty about Lemus at the Humanities Division faculty meeting

– 12:30 p.m. Oct. 15: A campus-wide advisory is sent out with Lemus’ name and photo

– 4 p.m. Oct. 17: A campus-wide advisory is sent out about Lemus being booked at L.A. County Jail with information about his court date

– Oct. 17: According to the Sheriff’s Inmate Locator update, Lemus’ bail is sent at $152,000 and his court date is Oct. 21 at Torrance Courthouse

– 6 p.m. Oct. 20: Trevis and EC attorney Michael Travis attend the board of trustee meeting. Trevis speaks about the case

– 11 a.m. Oct. 21: At Lemus’ hearing, his bail is increased to $1.2 million and the distance in which he must stay away from EC was updated from 100 yards to 1,000 yards

– 1 p.m. Oct. 21: Arce speaks at the Academic Senate meeting about campus safety

– 4 p.m. Oct. 21: A campus-wide advisory is sent out with updated information about Lemus’ new bail amount and next court date

– 8:30 a.m. Nov. 4: Lemus’ next court appearance will be at Torrance Courthouse