School officials: stronger safety measures after threats

A week long situation at Switzerland County High School is still being taken very seriously, as school and law enforcement officials are still investigating the situation.

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A week long situation at Switzerland County High School is still being taken very seriously, as school and law enforcement officials are still investigating the situation.

  School Superintendent Rod Hite sat down with Vevay Media Group Publisher Patrick Lanman last Friday afternoon to go over the events of the week and the steps taken by school and law enforcement to continue to ensure the safety of students.

  “This all started on Monday afternoon (January 14th),” Superintendent Hite said in the interview. “There was a bathroom wall writing in the girls restroom. I receive a call that said, ‘1-19-19 shoot up school’ — they misspelled the word school, but I put it in quotes so people knew what it said. They went back and checked cameras, and there had been enough students in and out at that point in the morning — because it was reported early afternoon or late morning — they couldn’t narrow down a window. They started an investigation and did a threat assessment, which is our standard procedure, and they notified me right away. I asked if we were in a lock down situation, but the police did not feel we were in a lock down situation, but it was something that they needed to investigate and see what they could come up with.”

  The superintendent then said that Switzerland County School Resource Officer Roy Leap, who is a member of the Vevay Police Department, along with other members of the Vevay department and school officials, including Principal David Todd and Assistant Principal Mark Boggs, instituted a thorough and complete investigation into the situation.

  It should be noted that the threat mentioned “1-19-19” — which was Saturday, not Friday. Hite said that there were a lot of school activities set for Saturday, but they were at other schools, so preparations were made to make sure that students were able to board their buses safely and securely to travel to their events.

  Meanwhile, the investigation continued by school and law enforcement officials.

  “We called kids in, and they start their investigation; and of course, kids go back and they begin to talk,” Superintendent Hite said. “Since it was for a specific date, for Saturday, we were going to release something as we contact schools on Friday; but then I saw the rumor mill start to build as to what it was, as we started to get calls at the school about Homecoming and Friday night, there was confusion as to what it was, so I released my first letter to specify exactly what the threat was. It was general, but for a specific date. We didn’t have any home events scheduled, they were all away events.”

  The first letter from the superintendent, which went out to all parents, all staff members, and students in grades 7-12, which is dated Thursday, January 17th, stated:

 On Monday, 1/14/19, there was a school threat written on a girls restroom stall wall at the high school. The threat indicated “1-19-19 shoot up school,” which is Saturday. When school officials were made aware of it Monday, the administration immediately notified law enforcement and began a threat assessment of the situation. If there was an indication of an immediate threat the school would have gone into lockdown and parents notified via a school alert message.

  The incident has been documented and has undergone investigation by our School Resource Officer and administration.

  We understand many rumors have begun among students. I want to clarify, Switzerland County School Corporation has taken additional safety measures this week and will be implementing steps to help increase safety measures going forward. With the help of local law enforcement we have additional walk throughs taking place and additional measures for Friday’s basketball game and dance. All school threats are taken very seriously. I want all students and parents to know anyone making threats not only faces academic suspension but possible criminal prosecution.

  As a community we hold student safety above all else. To assist in student safety we encourage parents and students to follow the “see something, say something rule.”  If you hear of a threat to a student or school safety in general, directly or through rumors, graffiti, or social media we ask that you help us by immediately communicating with the school administration and proper safety officials.

  All of the school events taking place Saturday are at other area schools. We have notified those schools in the event they would want to have increased security on hand if necessary. We will also have our School Resource Officer at SCHS for student bus loading as the students gather to leave for the events.

  I understand the concerns student safety threats bring to our hallways and homes. I want you to know the administration and teachers of each building are working hard to keep the students of Switzerland County School Corporation safe on a daily basis and school will be in session Friday 1/18/19.

  We thank you for your support as we continue to work diligently to increase school security.

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  The superintendent said that as a part of Monday’s investigation, school officials began to discuss additional measures to keep students and staff safe.

  “At that point on Monday, we went through and talked about what we could do to increase safety at the school, and we put a few additional measures in place to help increase those safety protocols,” Hite said. “As we went through those, that’s what led to my release of the (first) letter on Thursday. Approximately an hour after I released that letter, I was at the high school — I knew I wanted to be there for bus dismissal and pick up, so I was there. Right at bus dismissal, we had a student come out of the restroom and tells the nearest adult, “Hey, somebody scratched something on a bathroom stall wall’, and he had another student with him.

  “They called for Mr. Boggs to come down to the boys restroom, and Officer Leap and I were right behind him. We went out to cover bus duty, I was out front, others went out to cover their duties, Then we went back and pulled the camera footage,” the superintendent continued. “Some of the additional safety measures we had taken allowed us to narrow a window down, so that time window was very small. We were able to narrow that window down where we knew the exact number of students who had come out of there (the bathroom), it was a very small number of students. We were able to identify those by camera — who went in and who came out — who they went in with and who they came out with, or if they didn’t come out; and how long each of them was in the restroom.”

  With that information in hand, school officials began their second investigation. The writing on the wall of the stall said, “I’ll be here Friday your (sic) dead.”

  “From that, we called each one of those parents, and had the parents bring each one of the students back to the school,” High said. “Everyone of the parents was very cooperative. They did a great job of sitting in and answering questions for the administrative investigation side of it; and then, if needed, the parents would meet with the police officers, and then take their child over there. As we continued the investigation, we were able to speak to all four; and each one of the stories easily matches up because it was right after we had the video, we knew the time frame of who was going in and who was coming out. They verified who was coming in and who was coming out. They verified what they saw and when they saw it.

  “At that point, we had one student who had gone in individually, had been there a long period of time, and then came out individually,” the superintendent continued. “By going back and watching additional video, following where the student had gone and where the student had come from, they were able to garner some additional information for their investigation. The police then called the person in again, the police went through theirs, and that’s where the arrest was able to be made.”

  Superintendent Hite said that Thursday afternoon’s investigation and then arrest of the juvenile, with regard to the second bathroom incident, was handled through School Resource Officer Leap, Vevay Police Chief James Richards, and Vevay Policeman Kevin Adams.

  That arrest led to a news release on Thursday evening from Chief Richards:

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  On January 17, 2019, School Resource Officer Roy Leap received information of graffiti on a wall in the men’s restroom at the Switzerland County High School. The nature of the graffiti prompted a police investigation.

  During the investigation, a person of interest was determined and later interviewed. The suspect admitted guilt and was transported to the Switzerland County Jail to be processed for Level 6 Felony Intimidation.

  All persons charged are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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  Hite said that Officers Leap and Adams were at the high school along with Principal Todd until approximately 11 p.m. last Thursday night; continuing the investigation — which now encompassed two incidents.

  “As I stated in my letter, each threat is taken very seriously, you know, the kids need to understand — and I wanted the parents to understand — that it’s not just academics suspensions and possible expulsions that kids are looking at. You’re looking at possible criminal charges,” Hite said. “So even though that is stated clearly in my letter (the first one) within an hour, we had somebody enter the bathroom and do this. So they were able to make an arrest last night. The news release had gone out from the police department, so I had to come in this morning (Friday) and type another letter to our parents, verify with the police that what I had in there was accurate, I wanted to make sure I didn’t misstate anything, and as soon as the police verified the letter, I got it as soon as I could to the parents today.

  That second letter states:

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  On Thursday 1/17/19, there was a school threat written on a boys restroom stall wall, at the high school, after my initial letter was sent to parents and students. The threat indicated “I’ll be here Friday your dead.” When school officials were made aware of the message the administration and law enforcement were able to narrow the suspect list through increased safety measures put in place from the incident on Monday.

  As indicated in my previous letter these incidents are taken very seriously and face both academic suspension and possible criminal prosecution. The message was reported at dismissal, the Vevay Police Department had officers on site and sent additional officers throughout the night during the investigation. Administration was able to contact parents and gather student statements.

  Thursday’s incident was reported quickly by students who used the “see something say something” rule and reported the message to the nearest adult. With the additional safety measures taken this week, it left a narrow window for the police to investigate.

  We continue to have additional safety measures in place at school. Switzerland County School Corporation has additional law enforcement at tonight’s basketball game and dance. All school threats are taken very seriously. I want to repeat to all students and parents anyone making threats not only faces academic suspension and possibly criminal prosecution.

  Please continue to assist in student safety by following the “see something, say something rule.”  If you hear of a threat to a student or school safety in general, directly or through rumors, graffiti, or social media we ask that you help us by immediately communicating with the school administration and proper safety officials.

  Again, all of the school events taking place Saturday are at other area schools. We have notified those schools in the event they would want to have increased security on hand if necessary. We will also have our School Resource Officer at SCHS for student bus loading as the students gather to leave for the events.

  I understand the concerns student safety threats bring to our hallways and homes and this is not a joke. We continue to work hard to keep the students of Switzerland County School Corporation safe on a daily basis and school will be in session Friday 1/18/19.

  We thank you for your support as we continue to work diligently to increase school security.

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  The superintendent said that the entire matter is still an ongoing investigation, and that officials were still talking with kids last Friday about people who may have known something about the Monday incident.

  “I understand the concern,” Hite said. “In today’s world, I don’t take any of these threats lightly. My wife’s a teacher, my kids go to public schools. My whole world walks in those halls everyday. I wouldn’t put that at risk at any cost. I just know that, if we don’t continue to do what we do very well and educate students, this could happen over and over and over again — and it’s not a joke.”