by Heather Tomlinson
A local high school student has been charged with terroristic threatening after he allegedly sent text messages about detonating bombs at his school to a fellow student.
A Southwestern High School student late Sunday reported to investigators with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department that several threatening text messages had been sent to his phone by another student.
“The texts suggested a fellow student was planning to detonate fire bombs and shoot up the school,” stated Lt. Det. Brett Whitaker, with the sheriff’s department, in a press release. “The text contained some specific information as to where the bombs would be placed and a time frame for the detonations.
“There was no indication of the date the assault was to take place,” Whitaker added.
Investigators swept SWHS early Monday morning, before students arrived on-campus, and determined it was safe. Sonya Wilds, assistant superintendent for Pulaski County Schools, confirmed that the investigation didn’t affect students at the high school.
“It (the investigation) transpired over the weekend,” said Wilds. “It has all been handled off school grounds.”
Whitaker said investigators identified the sender as a 15-year-old male SWHS student and interviewed him about the alleged threats.
“The student admitted to detectives that he had in fact sent the messages but could not explain to investigators why he sent them or suggest a motive for the threats,” Whitaker said.
The student was arrested Monday. Wilds said the student did not attend school Monday.
The student has not been identified because he is a juvenile.
The 15-year-old was charged with first-degree terroristic threatening, which is a Class C felony.
This is the second such arrest in a month involving threatening text messages sent by a SWHS student. In mid-November, a 15-year-old female student was arrested and charged with second-degree terroristic threatening, a Class D felony, after she allegedly sent anonymous messages to two female classmates saying she was going to kill them and described the clothes the victims were wearing in the texts. She also sent a similar text message to herself, and what investigators called a “vulgar” message to another student, a male.
But Whitaker said the two situations are significantly different.
“This threat is different from the earlier one in that this student has an apparent desire to inflict harm ... although he could not explain to us why he wanted to do so,” said Whitaker in an email to the Commonwealth Journal. “The earlier threats were made by a female student who wanted to ‘scare’ her friends in a prank threat.
“She meant no real harm in that incident,” added Whitaker.
But Whitaker said threatening messages — be they made through text or in any other form — in any context are taken seriously by law enforcement and educational staff members.
“Prank or real, we are going to take a zero tolerance approach to all threats made in a school environment,” said Whitaker.
Pulaski County Sheriff Todd Wood said he’s confident his department’s quick response to Sunday’s incident and the November incident are evidence that investigators take such situations seriously.
“I think we have made that clear in our actions,” said Wood. “People who choose to engage in such acts ... they will face consequences.”
Law enforcement officials and school officials alike have taken a stringent approach to such behavior in light of such events as the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 26 people — 20 young elementary students and six adults — were killed. The one-year-anniversary of that incident was marked on Saturday, Dec. 14.
And one student was critically injured on Friday, Dec. 13, in a suburban Denver high school after a student entered the school with guns and smoke bombs and fired randomly into the hallways. The alleged gunman killed himself as law enforcement officials closed in.
“We want to thank the staff and faculty at the Southwestern High School who assisted us in this investigation,” said Wood. “Working hand-in-hand with our local schools helps us keep our schools safe and we will continue to strive to identify these types of threats before any harm can come to our children.”
Whitaker said they encourage anyone to report any suspicious behavior they may see.
“We want to encourage all students, faculty and parents to watch for any behavior that would suggest any student is thinking about harming others in our schools,” said Whitaker. “If they see any such ‘red flags’ we ask that they report that to us or school personnel as soon as possible.”
The student arrested on Monday was lodged in the Adair County Juvenile Detention Center.