At a late-afternoon press conference on Tuesday, the mayor and police chief of Los Angeles were eager to point out that the decision to shut down more than 900 schools following a terrorist threat rested with one man — LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
The 83-year-old Cortines stood silently in the back row for the entire news conference. He did not speak.
Here's the weird part, though – Cortines doesn't really work at LAUSD anymore.
The school board hired Cortines, for a third time, in 2014 as interim superintendent, to replace John Deasy. In May, the board extended his contract until June 2017. But a month later, Cortines announced, in a tearful speech that took everyone by surprise, that he would be leaving at the end of the year.
Then, on Friday, before the terrorist threat in which Cortines made the call to shut down the schools, another surprise: Cortines was leaving. Immediately. Emails sent to Cortines were met with the following out-reply email:
I will no longer be in the office after Friday, December 11, 2015, due to my upcoming scheduled retirement January 2, 2016.
Starting today, December 11, please forward all emails to the Chief Deputy Superintendent, Michelle King at ChiefDeputySuperintendent @lausd.net.
I also want to take this opportunity to say that serving the students and the LAUSD community has been one of the most challenging, enthralling, and most rewarding endeavors of my career. I take with me the wonderful memories of our schools, students, and staff that I will reflect upon and smile about often.
All the best,
Ramon C. Cortines
Sources within LAUSD say there was a goodbye party in the office for Cortines on Friday, and that Cortines was not in the office on Monday.
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
I am emailing you to inform you of the happenings on Tuesday, 12/15/15.
Something big is going down. Something very big. It will make national headlines. Perhaps, even international ones. You see, my last 4 years here at one of the district high schools has been absolute hell. Pure, unmitigated, agony. The bullying, the loneliness, the rejection... it is never-ending. And for what? Just because I'm 'different'?
No. No more. I am a devout Muslim, and was once against violence, but I have teamed up with a local jihadist cell as it is the only way I'll be able to accomplish my massacre the correct way. I would not be able to do it alone. Me, and my 32 comrades, will die tomorrow in the name of Allah. Every school in the L.A. Unified district is being targeted. We have bombs hidden in lockers already at several schools. They are strategically placed and are meant to crumble the foundations of the very buildings that monger so much hate and discrimination. They are pressure cooker bombs, hidden in backpacks around the schools. They are loaded with 20 lbs. of gunpowder, for maximum damage. They will be detonated via Cell Phone. Not only are there bombs, but there are nerve gas agents set to go off at a specific time: during lunch hour. To top it off, my brothers in Allah and I have Kalashnikov rifles, Glock 18 Machine pistols, and multiple handheld grenades. The students at every school in the L.A. Unified district will be massacred, mercilessly. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.
If you do end up trying to, by perhaps, beefing up security, or canceling classes for the day, it won't matter. Your security will not be able to stop us. We are an army of Allah. If you cancel classes, the bombings will take place regardless, and we will bring our guns to the streets and offices of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Bakersfield, and San Diego.
I wish you the best luck. It is time to pray to allah, as this may be your last day.
Cortines told the Los Angeles Times that he saw the email at 5 a.m., and he made the decision to close all schools within an hour and a half. It's unclear whom he consulted with beforehand.
"I believe he consulted with the head of the school police, the president of his board and possibly other board members," Congressman Brad Sherman tells L.A. Weekly.
Except it wasn't his board anymore. Was it?
Sherman says the lesson here is that there needs to be a law enforcement unit dedicated to evaluating threats, one that a city or school can call at any time to consult with.
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"I'm sending a letter urging the creation of a law enforcement threat advisory unit," Sherman says. "You need to be able to reach a unit and say, 'Here’s the threat. How serious do we take this threat?' Even a sophisticated and large local FBI office cannot do all that."
That sounds like a pretty good idea. It now appears that the email was a hoax, or, as Eric Garcetti dubbed it, "criminal mischief." And there were plenty of reasons to be skeptical — the reference to 32 comrades and an attack on every school strained credulity. But, in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, it's somewhat understandable that leaders were acting with, as they keep saying, "an abundance of caution."
But it's a little weird that the decision-making powers lay with a guy who was all but retired.
The school board, meanwhile, is interviewing candidates to replace Cortines and, according to one source, is very close to making a decision.