The number of Colorado students arrested for making threats in the wake of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, continues to grow. By our count, there have been at least five busts of this type in the state over the past week, including one involving a fifth-grader, with three additional incidents leading to increased security measures at other schools. Four of the threats took place in metro Denver, which is known worldwide for the 1999 attack at Columbine High School, whose April 20 anniversary is scheduled to be marked by a national student walkout.
Meanwhile, Columbine remained in the forefront of the countrywide conversation about school shootings and gun violence, with Darrell Scott, father of murdered Columbine student Rachel Scott, taking part in a "listening session" hosted at the White House yesterday. At it, President Donald Trump expressed a willingness to discuss age limits for the purchase of weapons but suggested that one of the most effective prevention methods would be arming teachers.
As we reported yesterday, one of the arrests involved a Jefferson County High School student whose social-media joke went terribly wrong. He's accused of creating a Snapchat post featuring the photo of a friend above text that read, "Im fucking done will all you assholes always making fun of me. The time has come. Dont come to school tomorrow if you want to live."
This attempt at humor, which quickly circulated through the student populations at Columbine and Dakota Ridge, another nearby high school, fell flat with a considerable portion of its audience. According to Jefferson County Public Schools, approximately sixty students reported the threat on the Safe2Tell app and another 200 dialed 911.
In the meantime, two male students — one fifteen, the other sixteen — at Caprock Academy in Grand Junction received a summons for alleged threats of violence. According to the Grand Junction Police Department, the students were "overheard discussing last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and making comments that were perceived as threatening to the safety of the school." Several students who overheard this conversation shared what they heard with Caprock staff and law enforcement quickly became involved, ultimately arresting the pair on suspicion of interference with staff, faculty or students of education institutions, a Class 1 misdemeanor, and releasing them to their parents.
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On February 15, prior to the Caprock busts, administrators at Grand Junction High School — from which I graduated many moons ago — "became aware of alleged threats made by a student...alluding to contemplating a mass shooting at the school," notes a separate GJPD release. He was subsequently taken into custody on suspicion of disorderly conduct, interference with staff, faculty or students of educational institutions and inciting destruction of life or property.
Then, on February 21, Grand Junction police revealed that "a fifth-grade student at Mesa View Elementary School was arrested and released on a summons to his parents for making statements about bringing a gun to school and shooting people. The students to whom the comments were directed were understandably frightened and immediately did the right thing: They told a teacher. The child was not in possession of a weapon at school, and he was charged with misdemeanor menacing."
The GJPD added: "Emotions are understandably high right now. Please have a conversation with your kids about the events of the past week, and provide age-appropriate context to reassure them."
Closer to home, the Bear Creek High School community was shaken when the message at the top of this post began appearing.
Word got out quickly. "Just received a call from Bear Creek High School that there has been 'a credible threat on social media, school will have regular session with increased security,'" one person wrote on Facebook, adding, "WTH? My daughter won't be attending."
A similar tone was struck by another Facebook scribe, who noted, "I didn’t send my son to school today. You just never know. What a sad world we live in. We definitely need to be praying for children everyday that God protects them and keeps his hand over them. My heart just breaks and I’m crushed."
Here's the letter sent to families by Bear Creek High principal Lynn Tor:
Dear Bear Creek HS Families,
As you have heard from me earlier, the student who made a threat via social media last night was taken into custody before school today. While I am not at liberty to share specific details, I am able to inform you that all indications at this time are that this was never a credible threat. Please know we take all threats seriously and we will continue to do so if other issues surface.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to staff, security, and law enforcement who all assisted us in appropriately dealing with the potential threat. I believe I speak for all of us when I say thank you to the students and parents who reported the threat as well. Finally, my thanks to those of you who have expressed support for us; this is a very difficult situation to navigate and your continued support and partnership mean a great deal.
We have heard several concerns I want to address directly:
• Timing. I know some students were already en route to school when the message was sent. We sent the message as early as possible. We had limited information to work with, many people to coordinate with, and the process of sending out an accurate message with helpful information that follows our security and safety policies is important. My apologies if you did not receive the communication before your student left for school.
• If you did not receive notification. We sent a voicemail, text message, and email to all families in our SchoolMessenger system. If you did not receive notifications, go to https://jeffcoconnect.jeffco.k12.co.us/ and check your settings. Our office staff can be most helpful if you first check to make sure correct phone numbers and emails are in the system, you have selected message category boxes for each of them (always check emergency and general, at least), and that you have not opted out of or unsubscribed from notifications.
• More information. If you want details about safety and security protocols, our district website has security information and a parent guide to emergency situations at schools.
• No ongoing threat. Despite rumors and continuing social media chatter, there is no evidence of any additional threat to our school.
Please take some time today to listen to any concerns your student may have. It is normal to be fearful, however we all need to reassure our students there are many people working to keep them safe.
Again, I appreciate your positive partnership and investment in Bear Creek High School and all it has to offer our great students.
A similar series of events took place at Englewood Middle School. However, Wendy Rubin, superintendent of Englewood Schools, determined that the threat in question wasn't credible, as indicated in her letter to parents and guardians:
Dear Englewood Campus Families,
In the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland, Florida last week, many students, parents and staff members may be feeling a bit of unease. During times of uncertainty, it’s easy for rumors to get started and to take on a life of their own.
A student at Englewood Middle School recently reported that he/she heard a rumor that someone was threatening to bring a gun to school. There was no specificity to this rumor, however as with any threat, we investigated this report thoroughly and have also involved the police. At this time, we have determined there is no credible threat, and this is simply a rumor that was started by one person mishearing another person.
We know that emotions are running high and any rumor about a potential for violence can be very scary for parents and students. While we do want students to report any threats they may hear about, we want to remind students that repeating rumors to their classmates that are unverified does nothing but create unnecessary panic and stress. Any and all concerns about possible threats should be reported to an adult, and not shared between students, as this sharing of unfounded threats continues to create a great deal of anxiety among students and parents.
Please know, our students’ and staff members’ safety is our top priority. We will continue to investigate any reports that are made and will keep Englewood police involved as well. If a threat turns out to be credible at any time, we will immediately take action to protect our students and staff members. Englewood Schools, along with other districts in Colorado and across the country, are being inundated with reports of potential safety concerns. As we move through this time of heightened concern and distress with regard to school safety, it is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of students, staff and their families in every school in the country want to be safe and want to feel cared for. We call upon every person in our community to help keep our school communities safe and cared for by reporting concerns promptly, not sharing misinformation, and by taking extra time to build supportive relationships with one another.
Thank you for trusting us to keep your student safe.
Wendy Rubin, Ed.D.
Finally, Grandview High School, in the Cherry Creek School District, saw security measures upped after images like this one began appearing on social media:
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As you can see, the comments include a mixture of general threats and racially offensive ones: "Im gonna be on the news tomorrow," "it will be tomorrow at 11 am," "I dont care about life," "Im adopted," "My parents died, 9 years ago," "My uncle put poison on chinese food and my parents eat it," "I will only eliminate niggers and nasty Mexicans" and "Bye niggers tomorrow is the big day."
One person who shared this image reacted like so: "FOR EVERYONE WHO GOES TO GRANDVIEW!!!!!!!!!! This kid sent this to a whole bunch of kids from our school saying he's going to do a school shooting at 11 am tomorrow. Just a heads up. 3 kids' parents called the police and school. No one knows who this kid is. Just letting you know. It was sent by someone else from Grandview. I'm not going to school."
Classes took place at Grandview yesterday amid extra security, and police are reportedly investigating the matter.
Which may not be the last case of this kind.