In lockdown for most of Thursday after reports of a teenager with a handgun near San Marcos High School, students were released from campus in stages shortly before 4 p.m. after law-enforcement officials had scoured the grounds for a suspect.

Drew Sugars, spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, said many people were questioned throughout the day Thursday but that no arrests had been made.

The campus at 4750 Hollister Ave. will remain shut down and searched by authorities, Sugars said. A search of the surrounding neighborhoods also will continue into the evening.

Students were released in large groups, since there are about 1,800 students, Sugars said. Those who were driving cars home were released last. The release process was expected to last about an hour.

After initial reports of a suspect with a gun about 10:15 a.m., both San Marcos High and nearby El Camino School, 5020 San Simeon Drive, were put on lockdown, said Mike Warren of the Sheriff’s Department. El Camino students were released early Thursday afternoon.

Parents reported that Hollister School, 4950 Anita Lane, also was locked down. However, the lockdown was not organized by the Sheriff’s Department, Sugars said.

According to authorities, the suspect was involved in an altercation with other men in the Turnpike Shopping Center area. He was described as a 16- to 19-year-old Hispanic male wearing a long, white T-shirt, dark-colored pants and yellow boxers that show above the waistband. He was clean-shaven with a medium-length buzz cut haircut and he pulled what was believed to be a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol out of the right pocket of his pants. He was last seen with three other Hispanic males, all carrying backpacks, running toward the school’s upper parking lot. All were believed to be high school students.

The Turnpike Shopping Center was searched and cleared Thursday morning, and more officers were deployed to search the corners of campus and nearby areas. Hollister Avenue is now open, although it was closed from Turnpike to Puente Drive earlier in the day. Traffic on South Turnpike Road at Highway 101 also was redirected, and parents were asked to go to the Turnpike Shopping Center to pick up their children.

A law-enforcement helicopter circles San Marcos High during the search for a suspect.

A law-enforcement helicopter circles San Marcos High during the search for a suspect. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara School District sent out a letter to parents Thursday afternoon.

“We want to thank the students and parents for their patience and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department for the thorough work they did in keeping children safe,” the letter said. “Teachers and staff have done a fine job handling a very difficult situation.”

The district urged parents to check the district Web site for information, and said it would continue to send out alerts as needed. Click here for more information.

Although it was inconvenient, authorities prioritize the safety of the children, Sugars said.

“We really appreciate everyone’s patience,” he said.

One week ago, and one mile away, Vieja Valley School, 434 Nogal Drive, was locked down for an hour after a passerby reported that a man was carrying a large gun near the campus. Authorities later confirmed that a nearby resident had carried an unloaded shotgun to his house from his car.

Check back with Noozhawk for details as they become available.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at