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Placerville principal fatally shot; Custodian in custody | Crime

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Placerville principal fatally shot; Custodian in custody

PLACERVILLE, CA - The principal of a Placerville elementary school has died after being shot on campus Wednesday morning.  A school janitor and close friend has been arrested.

Louisiana Schnell Elementary School Principal Sam LaCara, 50, was pronounced dead at Placerville's Marshall Hospital at 11:16 a.m., said Placerville Chief of Police George Nielsen.  Nielsen said LaCara had been shot at least once in the upper torso.

CAUGHT ON TAPE: Suspect taken into custody

John Luebbers, 43, a custodian at the school was taken into custody in the shooting at his El Dorado residence a little after noon. The shooting was first reported at 10:37 a.m. on the Schnell campus located at 2871 Schnell School Road, according to the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office.

Nielsen said it was unclear what kind of dispute may have precipitated the shooting.

SLIDESHOW: Scene outside of Schnell School

Placerville Union School District ordered all campuses on lockdown and sent a phone message alert to parents while law enforcement searched for the gunman. No students were hurt and all lockdowns were lifted shortly afterward.

A message on the district's website later announced all three schools in the district would be closed Thursday, with grief counseling to be made available when school resumed on Friday.

LaCara had been at Schnell School for eight years after being assistant principal at Markham Middle School in Placerville before that.

Although LaCara's professional life was in Placerville, he and his wife Lisa lived in Sacramento with their two youngest daughters.  The oldest daughter attends college at Brigham Young University-Idaho, according to friends of the family.

A representative for LaCara's family issued the following statement Wednesday evening:

The family of Sam LaCara would like to express their gratitude for the outpouring of love and support for their family at this difficult time. Sam will be remembered as a very loving husband and father who was devoted to his wife and 3 daughters. Sam loved his job and especially the children, parents and staff members he worked with on a daily basis. The school children meant the world to him.

The family would appreciate privacy as they go through the grieving process at this difficult time.

Dozens of Schnell students, teachers, staff and former students were at the school Wednesday evening for a vigil for their principal.


- Parent Robin Gallemore wrote:

When Sam La Cara was killed today, not only the students of Schnell were effected, but the entire community. For many years, Sam served as the Assistant Principal at Markham. For 6 years I would pull in to drop my kids to a smile and a "Hey Gallemore". He was firm but fair. He filled many positions to his students. Then his transfer to Schnell sent excitement through the area because of his reputation. I will pray for his family, the family of his assailant, and the people of Placerville ...

- Lynette Logan, who says she has known Luebbers since childhood, said she is stunned by his arrest.

Logan said he and LaCara were very good friends who went golfing most Sundays. She said they even shopped for guns for protection together.

"They went together shopping for these recreational weapons and I do believe they both purchased one," Logan said. "They did it together as friends ... not to use those weapons in a disgruntled fashion."

Logan added she can't imagine why Luebbers allegedly took such violent action against anyone, let alone his friend.

- Terry Wenig, the superintendent of nearby Buckeye Union School District, wrote to parents:

In El Dorado County, we consider all of our schools/districts part of a close knit community. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected by this incident.

When something like this happens, it causes us all to stop and reflect. Please be assured that the safety of students and staff is our top priority. For this reason, we practice emergency drills throughout the year and constantly update our procedures.

A number of factors affect how a child will react to a crisis event. These include how friends, family and teachers are reacting. If they see us expressing our feelings, doing what we can to help others, reaching out to others when we need support and encouragement, children are likely to follow our lead. Perhaps the most important message we have to give our children is to reassure them about their safety and encourage them to share their feelings.

Again, our hearts and prayers are with the Placerville community.

- State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson stated:

"I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the family of Principal LaCara and the students, teachers, staff, and parents of the Schnell Elementary School community in the wake of this tragic loss.

"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. I am grateful to the school staff members at Schnell and the public safety officers of Placerville and El Dorado County for quickly securing the campus and keeping the students and teachers safe."


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