An upsurge in violent threats leveled against northwest Ohio schools led police to arrest a number of local students this week and on Friday prompted officials to close three Washington Local Schools.
Whitmer High, Jefferson Junior High, and Washington Junior High were shut down for the day after multiple parents told Toledo police about threats posted to social media from a person calling him or herself “B Shooter 15.” Police said based on information given in the threat, the suspect may be familiar with Whitmer High School. Police and the FBI launched an investigation, but, as of Friday, the person making those threats had not been located or identified.
It was one of the latest developments in a stream of such threats that unfolded in the wake of last week’s horrific Parkland, Fla., school shooting that left 17 dead.
And while an uptick in threats often follows a highly publicized school shooting, mental health experts, law enforcement agencies, and school administrators are emphasizing the importance of identifying potential perpetrators and recognizing the risk factors that predate truly violent behavior.
In recent days, police have investigated threats made against schools in Toledo, Sylvania, Perrysburg, and Bedford, as well as schools in Defiance, Hancock, and Fulton counties, among other places. In some cases students have been arrested. In others police have had to investigate vague, poorly defined threats.
In Monroe County, the sheriff’s office on Friday notified Bedford Public Schools about a social media threat to “bhs,” according to a letter from the district’s superintendent to parents.
Superintendent Carl Shultz in the letter said the sheriff’s office and school administrators investigated the threats and provided extra police at the high school throughout the day, but he added: “There are hundreds, and possibly thousands, of schools across the country with the initials BHS.”
“The outcome for this investigation is that a particular posted threat was actually intended for Belen High School, located in Belen, New Mexico. The originator of the post has been arrested and will be charged accordingly,” Mr. Shultz wrote.
Similarly, Toledo police were among countless departments on Thursday alerted to a vague threat made against “SHS” on social media.
The police department took to Facebook to say the threat “did not appear to have originated in the local area and is likely a hoax.” But still detectives investigated.
Eventually a student in Springfield, Ohio, near Dayton, was taken into custody and is accused of making the social media post that caused districts locally and across the country to take precautions.
“We know based on research, within the first two weeks of there being a highly publicized mass shooting, there are going to be an increase in threats,” said Lisa Pescara-Kovach, director of the University of Toledo’s Center for Education in Targeted Violence and Suicide.
And while actual shootings are difficult to foresee, some experts said there are proactive approaches that could be effective in preventing planned acts of violence.
Eric Dubow, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and psychology professor at Bowling Green State University, said the focus should be on recognizing and addressing risk factors that foreshadow violent behavior before it escalates into mass murder. Risk factors can range from heavy exposure to violence in a family or community, to growing up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood.
Although school shootings are uncommon, and intervening with students exposed to violence runs the risk of stereotyping children and teens, this is one strategy that would “certainly” decrease the number of times school shootings happen, Mr. Dubow said.
“The problem is, of course, you’re intervening with people who may never commit an act like this,” he said. “That’s not the point. The point is there’s still a risk to commit some kind of aggression or violence. It may not be a school shooting, but they’re still showing signs of problem behavior that requires intervention.”
Ms. Pescara-Kovach said school shooters typically share similar characteristics.
“We can try to prevent these incidents by looking at what the other perpetrators all had in common,” she said.
Research shows in most cases the perpetrator previously alarmed other people, Ms. Pescara-Kovach said.
The media should also be mindful of its role when covering mass shootings, especially when it comes to highlighting the gory details of the incidents, she said.
“What I know is there are many, many shooters who do this for the notoriety,” she said. “Those at risk and those who have been thinking about it look at all the coverage and think … ‘I can bring this country to its knees.’ ”
Virgie Hamrick, a school counselor at Start High and director of guidance services for TPS, said her first goal when providing counsel to a student is to gauge if there is any disorder in the student’s life.
“Whether it’s family issues, substance issues, gang-related, feeling socially withdrawn, or lack of relationships, those are some of the things I want to find out,” she said.
While it can be difficult to distinguish between legitimate threats and less serious ones, a Toledo Police Department spokesman said they are taking every threat seriously and will investigate any risks “to the fullest.”
Other reported threats and arrests from the past week include:
● A 17-year-old Woodward High School student was arrested and charged Tuesday with inducing panic after Toledo police say she posted on social media she was going to “shoot up” the school, a police report shows.
● A 14-year-old Defiance boy was charged after he made threatening comments Tuesday against the middle school, according to officials.
● A student enrolled at Sylvania Virtual Academy was arrested after making threats on social media regarding Southview High School, according to police and school officials.
● In Hancock County, a 16-year-old boy was arrested for making threats against McComb Local Schools, said Hancock County Sheriff Michael Heldman.
● Archbold Police reported an arrest was made after a threat was made against Archbold High School Thursday. Police were notified at approximately 8 p.m. and investigators determined the threat to be valid.
● Two juveniles were suspended from Achieve Academy, 3891 Martha Ave., after they allegedly made comments about “shooting up” the school, according to a Toledo police report.
● In Perrysburg, a 15-year-old male student on Friday was charged with delinquency and inducing panic after a “potential threat” was posted on social media, Perrysburg police said in a news release.
Blade news services contributed to this report.
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