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After 14 months of grappling with the Chino Valley Unified School District, a forced semester-long leave of absence from the University of La Verne, and a host of legal battles, Nicholas Ceballos, freshman TV broadcast major, can attend his brother’s graduation ceremony at Ruben S. Ayala High School, also Ceballos’ alma mater.
He is making up for time lost, and his life is back on track after a nightmare that began with a flip comment he was overheard making last year at his former high school that spiraled out of control.
On Feb. 26, 2018, San Bernardino County Detectives Wendy Beaton and Eileen Smith obtained a search warrant for Ceballos and his home after an anonymous report was made regarding alleged gun threats made by Ceballos.
Daniel Ceballos, Nicholas Ceballos’ father, said he and his wife, Yesenia Ceballos, were getting ready for bed when they heard a loud bang on their front door. This was when they learned there was an arrest warrant out for Nicholas because of an anonymous report.
While visiting his old high school campus on Feb. 22, 2018, Nicholas said he and some of his friends, who were still in high school, were discussing the recent Parkland massacre, when Nicholas said that Ayala did not seem prepared to handle a shooting if one were to happen.
Apparently a student overheard the conversation and made an anonymous report to the high school principal Diana Yarboi. On that same day Nicholas was arrested.
Daniel Ceballos said it was an obvious rush to judgment.
“That’s what happens when a tragedy like Parkland happens,” he said. “It’s very easy to hear or see something that may be suspicious but isn’t really anything to actually report.”
Ultimately the DA rejected the case and it was dropped before any further criminal proceedings, his father said.
Although the charges were dropped, Nicholas was initially expelled from the University of La Verne and banned indefinitely from all campuses within the Chino Valley Unified School District, meaning he would have to miss his brother Matteo’s senior year theater performances, sporting events and graduation.
It took three months, his father said, before Nicholas was allowed to attend ULV again for the fall 2018 semester after working out the dropped charges, and about 14 months to get permission to attend his brother’s graduation.
Getting his life back on track was challenging.
Daniel Ceballos attended several Chino Valley Unified School District Board meetings to share Nicholas’ story, but the district only contacted him through email about three times regarding his concerns.
In addition, Nicholas lost an entire semester of his college education and had to completely change his career path.
Nicholas said he wanted to be a counselor for high school students, specifically because of his mother’s job as a high school counselor and his experience with the counselors in his own life – but due to his arrest, he cannot work within any kind of mental health or counseling field.
He has switched his major to TV broadcast, and said that the longer the situation went on, the more he realized how much he lost and how much it hurt on top of everything else.
“I tried my best to move on but it still majorly affected my psyche,” Nicholas said. “I went to therapy for a while. For a week or two I just didn’t do anything, I was just wandering around the house not showering.”
Yesenia Ceballos said she had Nicholas on suicide watch for two weeks after noticing the severe depression he fell into.
Nicholas just wanted normalcy back, she said. He came back to La Verne at one point after the arrest – before he had been cleared to come back to campus – to rehearse his lines for the Cabaret, only to find out that was not allowed on campus. He was not the same after that, Yesenia Ceballos said.
Missing his brother’s senior year of high school also really hurt on top of everything else, Nicholas said.
“Anything involving the school, I couldn’t attend. I couldn’t pick him up, I couldn’t do anything,” Nicholas said. “I felt like I was missing a lot and it hurt. I had to watch his last theater performance through FaceTime on my mother’s phone.”
Nicholas has been allowed to attend the Ayala graduation and other events that are not on the campus grounds.
He can go to other schools within the Chino Valley Unified School District, but he cannot return to Ayala, because although he has been cleared legally and by the school district, the decision to allow him back to his alma mater is the principal’s.
“It shakes your belief in the system, it really does,” Yesenia Ceballos said. “In the school system, the legal system. How could they do something like this? … Had somebody just done what they needed to do, which would be protocol, then this would have never been the issue.”
Daniel Ceballos said that he does not blame the student who made the report, but instead claims that much of the time, in the midst of fear and panic, a person can hear something that was never actually said.
“Hotlines get inundated with so many false alarms because people are overly alert,” Daniel Ceballos said. “It’s not that they mean bad, I don’t think this person was doing anything wrong, but when fear takes over it’s very easy to misunderstand the situation.”
Nicholas added: “I don’t resent anybody in the situation. It happened and I’m just trying to move past it and leave that whole chapter behind me to move on.”
Jocelyn Arceo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.