New SRO office survived 1989 shooting

Mia Pascual, Staff Writer

In 1989, Stockton suffered one of the first mass shootings on a school campus — Cleveland Elementary School.
Israel Camarena, Bear Creek’s new School Resource Officer, was there.
Even 30 years later, Camarena remembers that day with clarity.
“I recall being extremely afraid as I tried to keep safe by getting low and hiding under a desk,” Camarena said. “I was worried about my brothers, who also attended Cleveland Elementary.”
Camarena began the sunny day with promise, as he had just recently moved from San Jose to Stockton.
He had always been fond of learning and took education seriously, even as a 4th grader.
“I was taking 5th and 6th grade classes in some subjects like science and mathematics, which would require me going to the portable classroom,” Camarena said.
Hours before the shooting, Camarena’s teacher told him that the advanced classes had been cancelled for the day due to a malfunctioning in the air condition system, and that he didn’t need to go to the portable classrooms that day.
Perhaps a faulty HVAC system saved his life.
The portable classrooms were located away from the main building and closer to the south gate entrance where the shooter, Patrick E. Purdy, stood. Purdy stepped onto the playground where he began firing at students and staff before committing suicide. Camarena remembers sitting in his classroom near the playground when the shooting began.
By the time Purdy finished unloading 106 rounds of ammunition, five students were dead and 32 children, ranging in ages from six to nine years old, sustained non-fatal injuries.
According to reports, Purdy, 24, had a troubled childhood with divorced parents, and he often lived in and out of foster homes. For much of his life, Purdy was on his own — from getting in trouble with authorities for public drunkenness, working as a prostitute on West Hollywood, and purchasing deadly weapons. He never received a sustained mental health intervention and at 22 he was deemed to have an antisocial personality.
Since the incident, Camarena said he is more aware of his surroundings.
“I’m even more hyper-aware with the environment around me because of my career and the shooting that happened,” Camarena said.
Camarena says the incident helped push him towards a career in law enforcement in the hope of preventing a similar incident from happening.
Today, Camarena, 40, is married, and in addition to his job in the Stockton PD, juggles seven kids — three biological and four adopted. “Raising seven kids can be challenging to balance when work is a hassle,” Camarena said.
Some of Camarena’s job duties as BC´s School Resource Officer include reducing the number of 911 calls from schools, helping prevent students from engaging in criminal activity, and increasing the help that students receive through social service and health care systems.