HOPE — An investigation into two threats at Hauser High School resulting in the removal of two male juvenile students from school is continuing as police increased their presence Thursday at all Bartholomew County Schools as a safety precaution.
The atmosphere at the county’s high schools remained on edge as school officials and law enforcement continued investigations into five separate threats, two made involving Columbus East High School on Tuesday and Wednesday, two at Hauser on the same days and one at the Simon Youth Academy on Wednesday, located at Edinburgh Premium Outlets.
Hauser officials contacted Hope police Tuesday that one of their students reported a 15-year-old male student threatened to kill him, police said.
Hope Police Chief Matt Tallent said police spoke with the 15-year-old and his parents Tuesday and the boy was expelled from Hauser on Tuesday night. He was released to the custody of his parents, but Tallent said he plans to seek a Level 6 felony intimidation charge against the juvenile as a result of the threat.
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On late Wednesday afternoon, Tallent again was contacted by Hauser officials and parents that a verbal threat against the school had been made last week, overheard by two students who did not initially report it, the police chief said. Through word of mouth, information about the threat became known, Tallent said.
The threat was reported to have been made by a 16-year-old Hauser boy.
After talking with Hauser officials, the 16-year-old and his mother agreed to go to the Hope Police Department for an interview, and the juvenile’s mother consented to a search of their home, Tallent said.
During the search, Hope police confiscated a handgun and a small-caliber hunting rifle, which were placed in an evidence locker at the police station. The 16-year-old remains in the custody of his mother pending the outcome of the school investigation, Tallent said.
Flat Rock-Hawcreek Superintendent Shawn Price said any action involving the students still is in the due process stage, but both students have been removed from the high school pending any disciplinary action.
Price made it clear Thursday that school officials are taking any threat seriously, whether it’s intentional or meant as a joke, and every threat will be investigated by law enforcement.
Request to share information
The information about the Hauser threats resulted from the school corporation telling the Flat Rock-Hawcreek community it wanted any possible threat or suspicious activity brought to the school corporation’s attention, Price said. As a result, some of the instances occurred days before they were reported, he said.
Price said the vague threat investigated since Wednesday by Hope police in fact may not have been directed at Hauser or the school corporation.
As classes resumed Thursday, Price said school principals were communicating with students about what was happening, and also with parents who had concerns. Several safety meetings to revisit what to do in situations were reviewed, and safety measures in place are being reviewed, he said.
Social media rumors continued to cause issues for Hope and Columbus police Thursday, with Tallent saying rumors about the 16-year-old having a gun in his backpack at school were untrue, as were allegations that the student had posted a picture of himself with a gun on social media.
The backpack was checked during the home search and nothing was found, and the student doesn’t have a social media account, Tallent said of that allegation.
“I’ve had parents calling me and sending me messages, and I’ve tried to reiterate, the school is as safe as we can make it,” Tallent said Thursday. “I don’t think there is any active threat at this time.”
Hope police placed reserve officers at Hauser starting Feb. 15, the day after the fatal shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Tallent said. Two officers were at the school Feb. 15 and 16 and one officer was there Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, he said. Three officers, including Tallent, were at Hauser on Thursday.
A Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputy was patrolling outside the school during the day Thursday as an additional precaution.
In Edinburgh, Police Chief David Mann said officers received a report from Simon Youth Academy administrators that a 16-year-old student had drawn a sketch resembling a classroom. Within the drawing were sketches of a semi-automatic pistol and of bodies identified by student and teacher names and a sheet showing what appeared to be gunshot wounds, Mann said. The student showed the drawing to some of the 15 students who attend the academy for at-risk students, who reported their concerns to administrators, Mann said.
The student had left the academy prior to police arriving, but he was arrested by Edinburgh officers outside his home and taken to the Bartholomew County Youth services Center on a Level 6 felony charge of intimidation. Mann said police did not locate any weapons at the academy or on the student, although the student did have marijuana when he was arrested.
Edinburgh police had extra patrols near schools but said there had been no further threats.
In Columbus, Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police Department public information officer, posted on social media that several false rumors have been circulating about threats at East.
Columbus patrol officers were assigned special patrols around all Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. schools on Thursday in addition to their regular duties, Harris said.
“Additional law enforcement officers will be on hand for the next couple days at East to ensure the security of students and staff,” Harris said. “Please help us stop the spreading of untrue rumors on social media and report any suspicious or threatening social media posts directly to law enforcement.”
What parents say
Michael Sanders, who has two sons that attend Flat Rock-Hawcreek, one at the middle school and one in elementary school, said his children were anxious about the reports of the threats.
“My oldest (age 14) told me he was really scared,” Sanders said. “He told me, ‘Dad, I don’t know what’s going on.”
His younger son, age 12, had told his parents he was upset not knowing what could happen at his school.
Sanders said he had heard about Southwestern High School in Shelby County, which has been referred to as the “safest school in America” since installing a security system in 2015 that includes emergency notification fobs for school staff, smoke cannons from the ceiling to disorient and block a school shooter and multiple cameras and other equipment designed to communicate with police immediately and track any intruder.
The system, which cost about $400,000, which was funded in large part by Virginia security company Net Talon.
“As a taxpayer, I am more than willing if they would install that,” Sanders said, allowing that it would only be feasible in larger facilities such as high schools.
Sanders also advocates either arming teachers, or allowing them to carry a Taser or pepper spray — something to protect themselves and their students in the event of an attack. Or, he would like to see security guards at the school the entire school day.
“We have armed guards at malls and at banks. Our children have nothing,” he said.
Price said he has toured Southwestern High School, and some of Hauser’s security systems are not far off from what the Shelby County school is doing.
Flat Rock-Hawcreek has a direct line to the Hope police and shares police radio communications with the department.
“We’re always looking at ways to improve security in our schools,” Price said. “We are open to collaborating with Southwestern in the future, but I can’t say we will model our system after them.”
Columbus East parent Jenni Muncie-Sujan has created a BCSC Safety Now Parent Forum, a private page on Facebook where BCSC parents can discuss possible safety solutions. About 240 site users have joined so far.
“My original plan was to get people together to talk about things to suggest to the BCSC school board at Monday’s meeting,” she said.
The idea behind the group is to gather questions for the board, and suggestions, because teachers didn’t go into education to be emergency planners, she said.
The page was made private to avoid arguments about gun control or other hot-button political issues, in an effort to focus on what parents can do to help their students, she said.
“It’s also been therapeutic,” she said. “It’s a place where people can say, ‘I’m scared of this.'”
Muncie-Sujan’s daughter, who attends East, told her mother she wanted to stay home Thursday after experiencing the incident the day before in which a school fire alarm was accidentally damaged, and a social media threat was conveyed while students were outdoors for the alarm.
“I just think today (Thursday) can be seen as a chance for a break, a chance for things to settle down,” Muncie-Sujan’ said. Her daughter was doing schoolwork from home Thursday.
The following is a timeline of the five threats made this week against Bartholomew County high schools.
1) A Hauser High School student reports that a 15-year-old male Hauser student has threatened to kill him. The incident was reported to the Hope Police Department. The student is expelled from school and released to the custody of his parents. Charges of Level 6 felony intimidation are being prepared in the case against the juvenile, according to Hope police.
2) A male juvenile at Columbus East High School was arrested by Columbus police after students told authorities that he had made a social media threat against the school on SnapChat, suggesting that the school would be “shot up” in two days. Within minutes, Columbus East dean Michael McBride and Columbus Police School Resource Officer Julie Quesenbery went to the student’s classroom and removed the boy, isolating him in a private area away from the student body. He was arrested on a preliminary charge of Level 6 felony intimidation and held at the Bartholomew County Youth Services Center.
3) Columbus East students moving large items in a hallway accidentally hit a fire alarm box, activating the alarm. East students outside the building begin taking photos and videos during the evacuation, which they share on social media. A former Columbus East student, a male juvenile, sent a response back to one of the students via social media, making a threat of violence. He also sent a photo of himself holding a firearm. Police identified the juvenile and located him in Columbus, and he was arrested on a preliminary charge of Level 6 felony intimidation and held at the Bartholomew County Youth Services Center.
4) Hauser High School students who overheard a 16-year-old male classmate making a threat last week report the incident to school officials, resulting in a notification about the threat to Hauser High School parents after school had ended for the day. The juvenile and his mother meet with Hope police at the police station and the mother consents to a search of their home, where police confiscate a handgun and a small caliber hunting rifle. The teen has been removed from school and remains in his mother’s custody pending further school disciplinary actions and the ongoing investigation by the police department.
5) Edinburgh Police officers are called by Simon Youth Academy officials located at Edinburgh Premium Outlets about a 16-year-old student who showed a sketch depicting a shooting scene to some of his classmates. The drawing contained sketches of a classroom, a semi-automatic pistol and bodies identified by student and teacher names. The student had left the school for at-risk youth when police arrived, but officers found him outside his home and arrested him on a preliminary charge of Level 6 felony intimidation. He was then taken to the Bartholomew County Youth Services Center.