Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate
Jessica Cejnar
Del Norte Triplicate

Though the investigation is ongoing, police say an over-the-counter medication that sent a number of Crescent Elk Middle School students to the hospital Tuesday was shoplifted from a local merchant.

Fifteen students were either seen by the school nurse or transported to Sutter Coast Hospital on Tuesday after they ingested the pills, Crescent City Police Chief Ivan Minsal said Wednesday. One student who had experienced seizures on Tuesday, may still be in the hospital, Minsal said Wednesday.

Minsal said he also wanted to emphasize the importance, especially for young people, of not taking medication that isn’t prescribed for them.

“We got one seriously sick young lady and we have a number of people who have different degrees of illness and are recuperating from this incident yesterday,” he said, adding they were all released to their parents. “We’ve been lucky that nobody died.”

Police, fire and ambulance personnel arrived at Crescent Elk Middle School at 12:20 p.m. Tuesday and initiated a triage to evaluate students. According to Minsal, those that had “very apparent symptoms” of an overdose were taken to the hospital by ambulance while their parents were notified.

Police are still investigating the circumstances around the shoplifted pills and trying to determine why students had ingested them, Minsal said Wednesday.

According to him, “they were handing them out like we would hand out candy.” Some students had taken two pills while others had ingested 10 to 15, Minsal said.

“That’s why the students were taken to the hospital and medically cleared,” he said. “All were released to their parents. One student may still be at the hospital. The investigation is still ongoing as to what this trend is, why kids are doing this and who, if anybody’s responsible, for bringing the pills to school.”

On Tuesday, Del Norte County Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Harris said a staff member at Crescent Elk saw a student acting “oddly,” approached them and escorted them to the office. Through speaking with the student and continuing an investigation, school officials found out more about the situation.

Harris said Tuesday that though school officials have been told what they think the drug in question is, nothing has been confirmed yet by law enforcement or the hospital.

“Today was really about getting as much information as we could and making sure that every student who had ingested any of the medication was safe and that they were treated if necessary and that parents were notified,” Harris said.

On Wednesday, Minsal told the Triplicate the police department now knows what the substance was the students ingested, but aren’t releasing that information to the public yet.

“Our main concern yesterday for police, fire and medical was the safety and wellbeing of all the children that had ingested this stuff. That was the most important thing,” he said. “We got a number of names, we interviewed a number of people. We’re continuing to interview students, parents, school officials who were at Crescent Elk and all the other stuff that comes with that.”

Once their investigation is concluded, Minsal said his department will speak with the Del Norte County District Attorney to determine what further actions should be taken.

“Right now we haven’t reached that beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard yet,” he said.

Both Minsal and Harris commended police, fire, ambulance and school personnel who worked together to address the situation.

“They did a very comprehensive check of all the students that were No. 1, mentioned throughout the day as they went into classes and verified that no one else was having any sort of adverse effects or exhibiting any sort of additional symptom,” Harris said. “Everybody worked very well together as quickly as they became aware of the situation. It was a great response by our local emergency providers.”