By Stan Finger, The Wichita Eagle
Sept. 22–For the fourth time in less than three weeks, authorities in the Wichita metro area found themselves responding to a threat targeting students at a school.
Three Northeast Magnet High School students were arrested Tuesday morning after a threat was posted Monday night on social media, authorities said. Additional security was sent to the school Tuesday morning, and students arriving at the school were checked with magnetic wands before being allowed to enter the building, Bel Aire Police Chief Darrell Atteberry said.
El Dorado High School has dealt with two threats on social media in the past two weeks and a Maize middle school student was arrested after a threat earlier this month.
As unsettling as the recent threats have been, Atteberry said, the incidents demonstrate that the system in place is working.
“We’re being alerted to these threats rather than being surprised by them after the fact,” he said Tuesday.
Given school shootings around the country in recent years, “we can’t discount any potential threat,” Atteberry said. “We in law enforcement and the school district have to believe that a threat is a threat.
“We don’t want anything bad to happen to our kids.”
Northeast principal Matt Creasman said in a ParentLink message sent at 5:45 a.m. Tuesday that additional precautions were taken following “a general threat against our school.”
“We appreciate the collaboration of local law enforcement officials in this investigation,” Creasman’s first message to parents said. “The students who reported the threat did exactly as we ask them to do — if you see something, say something.
“Rest assured that we take matters like this seriously, and we will pursue the most significant consequences possible for those involved.”
Atteberry would not provide details about the threat, saying only “it was a credible threat.”
A statement released by the Bel Aire Police Department reported police were alerted at about 8:45 p.m. Monday to a threat posted on social media that included photos of firearms and threats not to attend school on Tuesday. Students who viewed the threat alerted their parents, who in turn contacted police.
“They worked on it through the night,” Atteberry said of the officers.
Normal class activities were held during the day, though exterior doors were kept locked as a precaution, Creasman said in a second message to parents sent at 9:14 a.m. Lunch was served at the school, with extra food prepared for students who don’t normally eat at the school.
El Dorado High School was locked down Monday afternoon after a threat was posted on social media. It was the second time in 10 days El Dorado school activities were disrupted by an online threat.
The football game between El Dorado and Augusta was called off on Sept. 11 after a threat posted on Twitter indicated the game would be the target of some sort of “strike.” The game was played two days later. Both incidents remain under investigation.
A Maize middle school student was arrested on Sept. 3 after a threat against a particular student was made on Instagram during an online debate. He has been charged with seven felony counts of criminal threat, according to the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office. A juvenile pre-trial conference is scheduled for Oct. 13.
On the Northeast threat, USD 259 officials and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office worked closely with Bel Aire police as part of the investigation. Wichita schools spokeswoman Susan Arensman said school officials can’t afford to take online posts lightly.
“We take these things seriously, whether it’s Snapchat or Twitter or Facebook or any type of social media,” she said. “Especially with social media, I think sometimes students think it’s not going to come back to them.”
Terri Moses, executive director of safety services for the Wichita school district, said authorities watch for language that involves “direct acts of violence.”
” ‘I hate my teacher’ is not a threat,” Moses said. “It’s a concern” that may lead to working with teachers and counselors to help the troubled student.
But the focus shifts if language suggests others could be harmed.
“Any time we get information where there is a specific description of an act of violence, we’re going to take action,” Moses said.
“Kids being kids” isn’t a defense against online threats, she said.
“We know young people have a shorter impulse control,” Moses said. “That doesn’t mean we are not going to take comments seriously.”
Moses said she has made it a mantra to tell parents: “Grab your kid, sit down and talk to them” about how they use social media and how they manage their anger.
Venting anger or frustration on social media sites may not just lead to legal trouble, it could have long-term ramifications, officials said.
“Do you not think that adults are looking at this?” Arensman asked. “Do you not think future employers and future college admissions people are not seeing this?”
Creasman touched on that, too, in one of the messages sent to parents Tuesday.
“Please continue to remind your students that their digital footprint will be with them for life,” he said. “Encourage them to think carefully about what they post, and how those posts will reflect on your family as well as their future.”
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