"I don't think he would step on a bug," music teacher Robin Kramer said of Christopher Egerton. The 18-year-old's Feb. 14 prank brought officers from Mountain View and Los Altos police departments rushing to the school and its surrounding neighborhoods.
No one was injured in the incident, and no weapons were found, police said.
Meant as joke
According to Kramer, Egerton "sometimes has trouble picking up on social cues," and hadn't really considered how frightening some might find his getup.
The teacher, along with parents, students and other community members are defending Egerton, saying that the teen's post-high school career shouldn't be derailed by this one poor choice.
As Kramer tells it, the gas mask was not intended to instill fear in his classmates. Egerton was riffing off the school's Valentine's Day theme — "Love is in the air."
"He was protecting himself from the love in the air," the music teacher explains. Kramer said she knows this because her class was Egerton's first of the day.
Though she was at first taken aback by the gas mask in combination with the camouflage, Kramer said it is possible that Egerton did not even make that connection. Kramer said that several groups of Valentine's Day singers had planned to go around the school that day singing love songs, and that each group had decided to wear coordinated costumes. Egerton was attached to a group that had chosen to wear military style dress, she said.
After instructing him to remove his mask, Kramer pulled Egerton aside and asked him whether he had considered how some might be threatened by the way he was dressed. "What made you think this was a good thing to do?" she asked.
"I thought it would be funny," he replied.
Kramer tried to explain to him why it wasn't funny. She told him that as an 18-year-old he was now considered an adult. She said, "You're just lucky no one called the police."
Shortly after that, Principal Keith Moody pulled Egerton out of her class. As it turns out, someone had called the police.
According to Mountain View police, all patrol units, school resource officers, traffic units and detectives immediately rushed to the school, along with officers from Los Altos Police Department. Police set up a perimeter around the school and officers saturated the neighborhood looking for the subject.
After retrieving Egerton from Kramer's class, Moody brought the senior to a conference room where he was interviewed by police officers who "admonished" him, according to a police press release.
The student was booked into jail not because he wore a gas mask and camouflage to school, but because he displayed a "threatening demeanor" to the officers who interviewed him, according to Sgt. Sean Thompson, public information officer for the MVPD.
According to the official police report, Egerton became angry during his interview with the officers, and at one point snapped at them, saying: "Go ahead and (expletive) shoot me in the head."
Kramer said she hadn't heard anything about Egerton acting out while talking to the police. She said the incident and its outcome has been personally frustrating to her, "because the Chris that I know is a brilliant, sweet, good human being."
Community defends senior
In the wake of the incident, many community members have come to Egerton's defense. In emails and online comments Voice readers have called the reaction of authorities too harsh. Egerton was arrested for "causing a disturbance on school grounds," and while it is unclear whether district officials are considering expelling Egerton, it is rumored that this punishment has been considered.
Anthony Moor, the father of an Mountain View high student, said it would be unjust to expel Egerton. "Clearly he did something stupid," Moor said. "Clearly he needs a talking to."
But to alter the trajectory of a bright musical career would not be right, Moor said.
According to Kramer, Egerton is one of the best student musicians she has encountered in her 35-year career as a music teacher. In all the time she has been teaching she has only had two students who qualified for an audition with the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Egerton is one of them, she said, adding that she hopes this incident does not adversely impact his chance of being admitted.