Otsego, Plainwell schools face school shooting threats

Police are investigating a social media post that went viral in the Otsego and Plainwell area about another implied attack at the local high schools.

Otsego Public Schools, faced with its second threat within a week, closed school Thursday, Feb. 22, even as it was set to host part of the two-day Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association’s District 10 Band and Orchestra Festival.

Plainwell Public Safety director Bill Bomar said the most recent threat was made in the early evening Wednesday, Feb. 21, by a Plainwell High School student, though it did not appear to be credible.

“Even still, we have to take it seriously and make sure we take care of it,” Bomar said.

He said a screenshot of a set of text messages had been shared on the social media app Snapchat. Wednesday evening, Otsego Public Schools’ Facebook page announced, “We have been aware of a snapchat message being circulated tonight indicating a threat to Otsego and Plainwell schools. Plainwell Public Safety is investigating the threat at this time.”

Bomar said, “The messages said things like, ‘Nobody go to school tomorrow. I may say I hate the majority of you, but you still don’t deserve to die. Share this. If you go to Plainwell, pls don’t go to school tomorrow. I have friends who know a guy... it’s going down.”

He said the investigation was ongoing and declined to share the image of the messages; no arrests had been made by Thursday.

“We’re focused on some individuals and we’re putting all the facts together,” Bomar said. “We were with school staff all day (Thursday). If there was some validity to the threat, I would have advised schools to close.

“But our investigation in the evening (Wednesday) made it appear there was no validity to the threat.”

 

Decision to close

Otsego superintendent Jeff Haase said he ultimately decided to close the school based on feedback from students and parents.

“Obviously, with the social media post Wednesday evening, as we started to investigate and hearing from parents and students—the emotional state was very elevated about coming to school on Thursday,” Haase said. “Part of that is a result of initial threat (earlier in the week).”

Tuesday, Feb. 20, an Otsego senior warned friends not to go to school that Thursday and police said the boy claimed “it’d be worse than it was in Florida,” a reference to the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., the previous week that killed 17.

The student was arrested and was expected to be arraigned on a felony charge of making a threat.

At that point, school officials said they believed the school was safe after consulting with local police.

Otsego Police Chief Gordon Konkle said, “...He said when we interviewed him it was a joke. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very funny joke.”

The Wednesday viral comments made two threats in a week, however.

Haase said, “I made the decision to close based the anxiety level of our students. Feedback has been mostly positive about the closure.”

By Friday, he said there was a sense of calm returning to the district.

“We had additional police presence at the high school,” Haase said. “Two sheriff deputies were in the building, just to reassure students and parents that everything is fine.”

Monday, the district is set to announce the date and time for a community forum on the issue to take place in the next few weeks.

“It will give the parents and community the opportunity to speak to administration about this,” he said.

 

Band festival

As for the festival, organizers reorganized to accommodate two days’ worth of judged performances into one day, Friday.

Haase thanked band director Mitch Piersma and the band parents association for accommodating the school closing.

“They dealt with the cancellation, knowing school would be open today and fitting everything in,” he said, noting he’d viewed the Otsego band and orchestra perform early on Friday. “Seeing support from the community and the visiting bands—it felt really good to see that.

“One thing that can’t be emphasize enough is how our students have stepped up throughout all of this. They continue to have those open conversations with the adults in our buildings—it’s important because those relationships our staff has built let students know they can share things even when they’re upsetting or frightening.”

 

Prevention

Bomar said the only way to prevent something like the social media threat Wednesday was to have parents more involved in their children’s social media use.

“They need to understand what’s inappropriate and what’s not,” he said. “I don’t think the kids understand what happens after they do something like that, how it impacts public safety and the schools.

“And, of course, a lot of kids didn’t go to school (Thursday) because of that.”

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