On Oct. 31, a tense hostage standoff at a California school ended when police fatally shot a father who stormed the school and held his daughter’s first grade teacher against her will for hours.
In a letter released by the Riverside Unified School District to multiple outlets earlier this week, the 70-year-old teacher, Linda Montgomery, described how she’s coping with the aftereffects of the incident at Castle View Elementary School.
“As I move through my own healing process, I am experiencing a range of emotions — anger, however, has never been one of them,” Montgomery wrote. “I want to thank law enforcement and other first responders. I appreciate the efforts and actions taken by all of them, as well as those of my colleagues and staff at Castle View Elementary School to ensure my safety.”
During the standoff, the father, Luvelle Kennon, 27, was fatally shot after a SWAT team stormed the classroom, where he’d been holding Montgomery hostage for more than six hours, Riverside police spokesman Ryan Railsback said at a press conference that night.
Kennon barged his way into the school just after 11 a.m. that morning and punched a male substitute teacher who had tried to stop him, said Railsback.
For the next six hours, Kennon barricaded himself and Montgomery in a classroom while hostage negotiators tried to persuade him to surrender.
“We even utilized family members in the negotiations as well,” Railsback told PEOPLE in a recent interview. “We used everything we had at our disposal to try to get a peaceful resolution.”
Authorities were able to communicate with Kennon intermittently, but had no idea how Montgomery was doing because they hadn’t spoken to her at all, said Railsback: “Was she injured? Had she had any food or water? It gets to a point where we need to know what’s going on with that hostage.”
Just before 6 p.m., a SWAT team fired flash-bang grenades as they burst into the classroom, fatally shooting Kennon.
Railsback wouldn’t say exactly what prompted the team to storm the room, what Kennon had said to hostage negotiators during the standoff or what led to the shooting.
Railsback says that police did not find firearms in the room, but he adds, “We’re not disclosing whether we found anything else in the room.”
“One of the things our detectives are looking into is whether there was something he had against the teacher — or was he coming to the school to take his daughter?” he says.
A Child Traumatized by Losing Her Father
The girl — who Montgomery confirmed in her letter was a student in her class — is still reeling from her father’s untimely death, says Railsback.
“We have a first grader and this was her parent,” Railsback tells PEOPLE. “This is a very traumatic situation for her as well.”
In her letter, Montgomery wrote, “I feel compassion for Mr. Kennon’s daughter, a student in my class, and for her family during their healing process as they cope with this tragedy.”
She added, “I pray that we all will find peace with what happened and heal individually, as a school and as a community.”
Carl Jackson, who said he is Kennon’s uncle, told local news station ABC 7 after the incident that Kennon “had a breakdown, and he relapsed again.” Jackson added that Kennon was “not a bad guy, never been in trouble.”
He said family members took Kennon’s car keys away from him that morning — but said he was still able to get to the school.
Detectives are now talking to family members, says Railsback: “It’s obvious he was having some kind of struggle that day based on what we heard so far. We want to figure out if that’s what led to his actions at the school.”
On Monday, students returned to school, which had been closed since Oct. 31. Members of the community and law enforcement were at the school greeting students with teddy bears, local station KTLA reports.
PEOPLE’s attempts to reach Montgomery and Kennon’s families were unsuccessful.