ST. MARYS — School officials in St. Marys have canceled several events in the wake of a threat that made reference to a shooting on Wednesday.
St. Marys police officers began investigating the threat following a phone call from school administrators. The threat, which was not directed at any specific person or traceable back to any one person, included a reference to a shooting during a school assembly.
“No one can trace it back to where it originated,” St. Marys Police Chief Greg Foxhoven told The Evening Leader. “There is nothing for us to go on — no note, no posting on Facebook. It’s word of mouth. I have talked with Mr. Lewis and he said they tried to track down the source and everyone says they just heard it or saw it on Facebook.”
In response to the threat, the school sent out a recorded message informing parents about the situation. As a result of the threat, officials canceled the fifth-grade DARE graduation and sixth-grade band and choir performance scheduled for today, the fifth-grade band and choir performance as well as assemblies scheduled for Friday. The recording noted the school had “no conclusive evidence of a threat.”
“Everyone has to take these seriously,” Foxhoven said.
Police officers are visible at the high/middle school during the opening and closing of the school day. Foxhoven said he planned to beef up that presence today and Friday.
“We will make it more noticeable throughout the rest of the week,” Foxhoven said. “We may even have an officer walk through the school. If that eases the minds of someone, then that’s good.”
While there is no tangible evidence the threat was credible at this time, Foxhoven said officers and school officials must act appropriately.
“We want to be proactive,” Foxhoven said. “We also don’t want to overreact, but you want to make sure that we take it for what it is — a threat that no one can trace back to anyone. If we could trace it back, it’s easy to talk with that person and ask them what their intentions were. With this, there is no way to track it and it’s got everyone on edge.”
This morning, Foxhoven told The Evening Leader officers have interviewed five juveniles. He noted the students were having a conversation that included “some poorly chosen words.”
“It sounds like a conversation may have started it,” Foxhoven said. “We’ve talked to these five juveniles and they have indicated there was no serious threat or intention on their part and that they used some poorly chosen words.”
Officers are continuing to investigate the situation and will continue to beef up their presence at the school.
“This was just so widespread, that we don’t know if this was the group or if there was another group,” Foxhoven said. “We are still looking into it because it was so widespread and so many names have been thrown out that it’s tricky trying to track it down.”
St. Marys Superintendent Shawn Brown said he received a phone call at approximately 10 a.m. Wednesday from Principal Dave Lewis in regard to the threat. Brown directed Lewis to see if he could determine the origin of the threat.
“They talked to multiple kids and they couldn’t find out the origin,” Brown told The Evening Leader. “It seems to be a rumor that grew legs and in light of the recent events in Connecticut, burned like a wild fire, but at the same time, we thought we needed to take action. I know we will be second guessed, but since it was directed toward an assembly at the school, we decided to cancel them and have school as normal.”
School was not canceled because Brown did not want to make that decision based upon a rumor that could not be traced.
“People would get on that quick and there would then be a rumor once a week and we’d have to cancel,” Brown said. “By canceling the assemblies and events, we were trying to err on the side of caution.”
School safety has been brought to the forefront given the recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. School administrators held a two-hour meeting on Tuesday to review safety plans with local law enforcement officials.
“I would tell the parents that I understand how they feel and emotions are still raw,” Brown said. “We take the safety of our students very seriously.”