KELSO, Wash. - Rumors and threats of violence at schools have spiked in Oregon, Washington and around the nation after the horrific shootings in Connecticut last Friday.
Police and school officials locally and across the nation have said they are taking all of them seriously, but tracking down the authors of the threats can be difficult.
Thursday was an especially busy day for law enforcement and school officials in the Pacific Northwest.
In Kelso, Wash., police said a 14-year-old student has been expelled after other students brought a threat to their attention. Students at a school in Albany, Oregon, had their backpacks searched and were then sent home after a parent reported they thought a student was brought a gun to school.
Parents and students at schools in Clackamas County, Oregon, received a letter regarding rumors of a threat there. And officials in the Tigard-Tualatin School District also posted a message on their website referring to a shooting threat rumor.
All of the incidents are just a few of the hundreds of stories of threats that have surfaced nationwide following the shooting deaths of 20 school children and six adults in a Connecticut elementary school.
In Albany, Oregon:
Parents with students arriving at Timber Ridge School in the morning Thursday were told classes were canceled after the schools principal, Jason Hoffert-Hay, said a parent called to say she thought a student was going to bring a gun to school.
Police immediately investigated and children who had taken school buses, walked or biked to school were told to put their backpacks against a wall in the cafeteria. School staffers checked all the backpacks and no weapons were found, Hoffert-Hay said.
Staff members were entertaining the kids during the incident to keep everything calm. Albany police said they later found out that a parent had misinterpreted a comment another parent made earlier in the week and there was no threat.
“In light of the lack of information we had, we felt it was better to be safe than sorry,” Hoffert-Hay said.
Students were sent home for the day after parents were notified. It was the last day of classes before Christmas break.
“We put student safety above an instructional day today,” Hoffert-Hay said.
In Kelso, Washington:
Kelso police said a 14-year-old student who made the threat told several other students and adults on Tuesday that he planned to shoot and kill faculty members and the school's police resource officer.
The student's parents contacted police Wednesday morning and officers arrested him at the school, police said. Police also said he has been expelled. The student has not been identified and police said he admitted making the threats when he was confronted by officers at the school.
Kelso School District Superintendent Robert MacGregor said police told him there was no evidence the student suspected of issuing the threat had gotten access to firearms. He said it was the most serious threat he had seen on two years on the job.
The school district also had a post about school safety in light of the Sandy Hook shootings on their website, but no mention of the threat was made. "The horrific events of last week have resulted in a heightened vigilance in the area of physical and emotional safety for our children," the message read in part.
Trisha Martin has kids who go to Kelso High and first saw rumors about the treats posted on Facebook and Twitter.
"I felt confident in the administrators at the school here," she said. "They have a security officer on duty all the time. We practice lockdown drills quite often at the school, so I felt safe and secure."
MacGregor said he thinks rumors spread through Facebook and Twitter convinced some students and parents to contact authorities.
"I think all of us across the nation are going to have to take pause and really reflect on what part did social media play," he said. "Is there something we can do to mitigate this kind of disruption and use the medium to help us prevent things, like we may have done in this case?"
In Estacada, Oregon:
"We want to inform you of a disturbing rumor that has circulated among students at high schools throughout Clackamas County, claiming that an act of violence will occur tomorrow (Thursday, 12/20/12)," a letter from Estacada School District Superintendent Howard Fetz read in part. "Since last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook School, there have been predictable rumors of violence in schools across Oregon and the nation."
There were Clackamas County Sheriff's Deputies at Estacada High School Thursday morning - just in case.
The superintendent there said he's working with police to get to the source of the rumor.
The letter from the Estacada superintendent said the school and police are working to identify the source of rumors in this area but so far, no one has been accused or arrested.
In Tigard/Tualatin, Oregon:
A post on the Tigard-Tualatin School District website also referred to a rumor about a possible attack, but on Friday, Dec. 21.
"In Tigard-Tualatin, rumors were started when someone said they saw a Twitter post from a girl who said she would not be going to school on Friday, December 21st because there was going to be a shooting," the undated post read.
"This rumor has been thoroughly investigated by police and determined to be NOT credible. As part of their investigation, police and school staff talked to students at both schools and worked to trace back the source of this Twitter comment. Again, they could find nothing to substantiate this rumor," school officials wrote.
Study: Threats are part of a pattern
A recent Yahoo! News article points to a study from the archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine said in the 50 days after the Columbine High School shooting, there were 350 threats at schools across the state.
That compares with just one or two in the same period the year before.
As far as threats after the shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, stories are emerging from all over the country about authorities cracking down on anyone responsible for the threats or rumors.
But when it comes to rumors - and the world of social media - it isn't always easy to track down the source.
Dear Parents, Staff, Board, & Community Members:
We want to inform you of a disturbing rumor that has circulated among students at high schools throughout Clackamas County, claiming that an act of violence will occur tomorrow (Thursday, 12/20/12). Since last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook School, there have been predictable rumors of violence in schools across Oregon and the nation.
We take these types of rumors seriously, and are working with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s office to investigate the source & credibility of the rumors. At this point, we have not been able to identify the rumors’ source.
However, the sheriff’s office will have extra deputies patrolling our schools, and school administration and staff will remain vigilant in monitoring school entrances. We are not intending to alarm you with this notification, but rather to keep you informed & vigilant. We share your concern for your child’s safety and, as always, respect your right as a parent not to send your child to school any time you believe it might be unsafe.
Christmas break begins at the end of the school day on Thursday 12/20/12. Friday 12/21/12 is a non-school day.
Please keep Sandy Hook families in your thoughts this holiday season, and give us a call if a concern arises.