PLACERVILLE (CBS 5 / AP) ― A custodian was arrested Wednesday after the principal at a Northern California elementary school was shot in his office and fatally wounded, authorities said.
John Leubbers was suspected in the 11 a.m. shooting of principal Sam LaCara at Louisiana Schnell School in Placerville, about 50 miles east of Sacramento, according to police.
Placerville police Chief George Nielson said the 50-year-old LaCara died a short time later at Marshall Medical Center from a gunshot wound to his torso.
The 44-year-old Leubbers was arrested at his home on Skycrest Drive in the town of El Dorado about an hour after authorities launched a manhunt. Witnesses saw officers go into the home with weapons drawn and take the suspect into custody.
About 50 officers from various law enforcement agencies participated in the manhunt for Leubbers, who fled on foot after the shooting.
No children were injured in the incident, and the school was locked down by authorities after the shooting in the principal’s office, which Nielson said might have been witnessed by a student.
The motive for the shooting was not clear, but police said Luebbers might have been laid off.
“There may have been some kind of dispute between the principal and the custodian,” Nielson said. “That’s part of our investigation.”
Police did not believe the janitor had any criminal history.
LaCara was rushed to the hospital after the shooting in what El Dorado County Fire Battalion Chief Larry Marinas described at the time as “very serious condition.”
Nikki Medoro Reporting For KCBS:
The police chief said LaCara’s family was devastated by his death; he was married and has three daughters.
“They are requesting privacy at this time,” Nielson said.
Chaplain Jim Thompson met with the family at the hospital after being sent by law enforcement officers.
“They’re very, very angry at the perpetrator, who they happen to know, (he) knew the principal very well,” Thompson said.
California Highway Patrol Lt. Chuck King said LaCara’s wife was driving on Highway 50 to the hospital after hearing about the shooting when she was pulled over by a CHP officer for speeding. Instead of being ticketed, she was escorted to the hospital.
LaCara was hailed as a dedicated leader in education by Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators.
“Sam has been a role model to school leaders for his dedication to students and to public schools,” Wells said. LaCara had served as a treasurer of the group.
The state’s superintendent of public instruction, Tom Torlakson, commended police and the school staff for quickly protecting the children in the wake of the shooting. Students were taken to the county fairgrounds, then were released to their parents.
“The children were safe in this incident. The principal was the target in this, unfortunately,” Nielson said.
“Our schools should be safe havens from guns and violence, and I’m deeply saddened when harm comes to anyone working to educate California’s children,” added Torlakson.
Classes were canceled at all district schools for Thursday. A candlelight vigil for LaCara was held Wednesday evening outside a Placerville church.
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