AHS’s violent history stretches back to the 70’s, however, nothing was done about it until the murder on October 28, 1994.
On August 24, 1983, the Fremont Unified School District adopted the closed campus policy in hope that the district will be able to provide closed campus to all school sites. No attention was given to the policy and the issue was subsided.
Fast forward to 1994, repeated gang violence, a murder, and a strong campaign led by PTSA President Gloryanne Bryant, American High School officially closed campus gates for good.
Many upperclassmen and teachers have heard about “the murder” that caused campus gates to close for good, but those present at the time confirm the murder wasn’t the leading cause of campus closure. In short, the murder was the last straw to a chain of gang violence that had surrounded the American Community.
Mr. Benn, teacher at the time, recalled a push for closed campus well before the murder itself, “That [the murder] was the nail on the coffin, that was the thing that made them say, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do it.’ But the dialogue had gone on for a long time before that. I can actually remember when we used to have reading period, we used to have a student council thing where one member from each class would go to a meeting in Theater 50 and they would come back and share with the class what they talked about. And there were two big issues at the time, one was about the dress code and the other was about a closed campus.”
As numerous articles of The Express and teachers reported, none of the violence taking place near the campus was actually tied to American High School. Nearly all of the fights described or reported involved outside intruders or took place in proximity of the AHS campus, which caused them to be affiliated with American.
For instance, following 10 gang-related incidents around American High School, a student was beaten by a chain on campus. As The Express reported on November 11, 1993, “a non-student fell down on the back lawn of AHS as his assailants ran off.”
Numerous students were involved in gang-activity and some were beaten up brutally during lunch on occasion—off-campus, of course, “I had a girl who had jumped into a gang and on the first day of school she was acting crazy,” as Creger recalled. “She jumped into a gang during spring. All summer long the girls were bothering her at the movie theater where she worked, calling her home, and harassing her. She realized she has done something stupid by jumping into a gang; the only alternative for her was to be jumped out, which means they would beat on her for 5-10 minutes. So the next day I was in my prep period 5th period and she comes in from lunch all beaten-up. That was the year before all this.”
Concerning these negative altercations, closed campus lunch seemed like a viable solution at the time. Parents and students were already sick of this endless spree of violence and determined to pinpoint the absolute source of it.
Joella Thompson, American High School’s librarian at the time, credited this violence to outside students coming to AHS in search for conflict, “I think Logan was considered the most dangerous school to be near. Because, number one, they had way more kids, so they had way more gang-activity. So I think, because we were just down the street from them, they were the ones, a lot of the time, coming over here and provoking things.”
However, the school had no way of preventing outsiders, as anybody could come and go as they pleased due to open campus. The school had limited security. There was one police officer on campus and no other campus security to back him up. Officer Woodruff was enough to scare the AHS boys into obeying him. As Ms. Thomson explained, “Carrie would find a way to tell and they’d quit. I’m not sure what he told them, but once he told them something, they quit. You know when somebody 6 foot 4 told you to do something, you do it.”
However, Officer Woodruff was not enough to handle on campus and off-campus activity. So the students reaped the benefits of open campus freely to the extent where they exploited their privileges. The community was tired of the teenagers being a hazard to the community. Ms. DiFranco described the experience of an old resident of the AHS community, “They had kids cutting through the Bonfare Market to get to school. There was a lot of kids crossing through their yards and there was a lot of garbage left all-over the sidewalks from kids throwing their garbage all over.”
The kid’s recklessness did not only hurt the community, the school funding suffered off of their actions, as well. As Ms. Thomson described, “They caught a lot kids doing things they shouldn’t be doing. And when they left, a lot of them weren’t coming back for 5th period either. They’d get detentions and the school would lose money—you have to have students in school a number of days before they got paid their ADA money.”
Carelessness and running free, the students did not even predict the tragedy that was to strike AHS.
On October 28, 1994, Alejandro Cueva, former student of AHS was stabbed and murdered across the street in the parking lot of the Lincoln-Mercury Dealership, reported by both Tri-City News and The Express. No one had even predicted such a predicament was possible as Alejandro had been “beefing” with this so called friend for ages. Mr. Benn described their relationship as the stereotypical childhood rivalry straight out of a classical black-and-white thriller, “From my understanding is, the two that were in the initial altercation had sort of grown up together. They knew each other at Thornton, they knew each other at American and had a history of hatred.”
“You took my girlfriend, that’s my seat, stay out of my turf.” It was the daily stuff. Regardless, Alejandro was dead. The conversation that started out with a lost girlfriend and a mockery of a hickey being referred to as a “monkey bite” took Cueva’s life, as the Tri-City News reported. There were flowers, posters, memorials held in grievance of the life lost.
Mr. Benn recalled Cueva sitting in one of his chairs merely two-years-ago before his death, “He wasn’t a troublesome kid, he wasn’t a bad kid, in that respect, he probably had a little bit of a bad situation.”
All sentiments aside though, the fact of situation was this: a young 16-year-old Hispanic student had been murdered by a white male in front of a spectating crowd composing of nearly 50 AHS students and some outsiders.
Another plot twist: It wasn’t Cueva’s childhood enemy who a had took his life, but a friend of that enemy who had brought a weapon to a playground fight. No one had stopped this tragedy from happening or stepped in to rescue Cueva. It was a messy, messy situation.
American High School was not held responsible for this, as the fight took place after school and off campus. However, everyone knew somebody had to take charge and put an end to this violence.
The parents came forward; they held meetings, seminars, and student help programs predominantly designed to reduce prejudice from the community. On the sidelines, they also fought for closed campus to secure their children in a safe place and get rid of the fear of any more children getting hurt. Then, came other precautions.
Nearly every student at AHS can recall Mr. Reibenschuh telling us to take our hat off. All thanks to the District’s ruling in the early 90’s to ban all gang-related clothing and mandate closed campus on American High School.
Believe it or not, the students were thankful for these restrictions. Ms. Thomson explained the purpose behind this bland ruling and the students newfound liking for it, “They decided to close the campus and make hats not allowed for all American High students. So you could just spot a non-American guy for miles. There were still kids who didn’t like the idea, but when they finally realized it wasn’t done to punish them, but to protect them from these other schools coming in. What happened is in about 4 or 5 months, they started taking care of their hair and the girls started commenting how nice their hair looked, and we had some of guys with the nicest looking hair in Fremont and it was because they couldn’t wear their hats.”
Violence did not completely leave AHS after the initiation of closed campus and dress code. Fights still cooed through the halls of the rotunda, only now they were contained. Even our current campus police office can recall some dangerous fight in the beginning of his duty, “It was almost like a riot; everybody in the Rotunda started fighting. He (the school police officer) couldn’t handle it, the campus supervisor couldn’t handle it, he called for back-up. I remember when I got here it was probably him on top of four other officers. There was people like beat-up and we were chasing guys around. People were like actively fighting and we were trying to break them up. It was just mayhem.”
Not till recently has American finally reached serenity.
But the fact of the matter is, American was not the only guilty party in the surrounding violence. Other schools played as much of a part in this as our previous students. However, only American High School has to suffer inside the closed walls of the campus, while Washington, Kennedy, Irvington, Mission, and Logan—a major guilty party in the conflict—all have the freedom to go wherever they please with their free time.
Regardless of all the negative consequences of an open campus, as a high-school students, we simply plead, it’s not fair. If all of the other schools campuses can uphold an open campus and maintain their safety, attendance, and education, American students can do the same—if given the chance.
Those who have had experiences with other campuses can testify that American is like any other. “I don’t see that you have any major problems here that the other schools don’t have,” as Substitute teacher, Alberta Irwin said. “In fairness to you, to American High students, if all the other schools have an open campus, you should, as well.”