By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport Madison school officials closed all 10 of the district’s school buildings on Feb. 27 after threats of violence were made toward the district.
Those threats, and others recently made in the district, resulted in two arrests.
“Multiple threats were made through online social media,” said Groveport Madison Communications Director Jeff Warner on Feb. 27. “The threats were posted elsewhere and then shared with the district. John Hurd (Groveport Madison interim superintendent) notified the police and officers started investigating right away. The district feels closing the schools was the best decision to make today and in the best interest of everyone.”
Madison Township Police Chief Gary York said an alleged social media threat, which included a posting showing images of weapons, was made toward Middle School North. York said a Groveport Madison Middle School North student was arrested the afternoon of Feb. 27 in connection with the threats. The suspect was charged with inducing panic, which is a second degree felony. He will be sent to the juvenile detention center.
Early in the investigation, York said Madison Township Police identified a potential person of interest and took them into custody.
“We executed a search warrant, but the search did not provide enough information to warrant an arrest at that time,” said York.
But later, evidence seized from a forensic search of a phone revealed information enabling police to make the arrest and charge the suspect.
“If you make threats that disrupt the lives of 5,700 students and their families, we will find you and arrest you,” said York. “We are taking a firm stance. We will find those who are responsible for threats like these and charge them with the highest offense we can, which is a charge of inducing panic, a second degree felony. You can’t hide.
We have methods of finding you through today’s technology.”
The threats made on Feb. 27 are not the only ones the district has faced recently.
On Feb. 26, the Groveport Police arrested a student who allegedly made an email threat toward Middle School Central. That student is currently in a juvenile detention center and charged with inducing panic, a second degree felony.
Groveport Police are also investigating a shooting threat made toward Middle School South on Feb. 26.
The names of the suspects cannot be legally released because they are juveniles.
“Social media companies are doing a better job of working with law enforcement to provide us with useful information that can be used to develop suspects and that may lead to arrests,” said Groveport Police Sgt. Josh Short.
Warner said Groveport Madison Schools take all threats seriously as well as the disciplinary action the district would take regarding students who make these threats. He said the disciplinary action can include expulsion and criminal charges.
To promote safety in the schools, Warner said the district shares safety drill information with parents, works with police, encourages parents to let the district know when they hear or see things that could lead to potential threats, and promotes open communication.
“A safe school environment exists when students and parents feel welcome and when there is a good relationship between students, teachers, and administrators,” said Warner.
Warner said the district reviews safety protocols with the principals in each of the district’s schools to make sure the buildings are secure and to reiterate the safety measures that are already in place.
“Our buildings are always on Level 1 lockdown with all the exterior doors locked and one must show identification in order to enter any of the buildings,” said Warner.
York said closing the schools on Feb. 27 was the right decision. He said his department has a good working relationship with Groveport Madison Schools and the Groveport Police and that all three entities take these types of issues seriously.