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Threats shut college, high school

Lewiston police apprehended an 18-year-old college student threatening “Columbine”-style shootings Friday at Lewis-Clark State College and Lewiston High School.

Richard Sonnen, a Lewis-Clark student, allegedly told several people Thursday that the Columbine High School shooting anniversary was coming up and Lewiston was going to get “its own little Columbine,” Lewiston police Sgt. Don Blair said. Sonnen allegedy said he planned to take a rifle to a clock tower on the Lewis-Clark campus and begin shooting people.

Friday was the eighth anniversary of the Columbine shootings, and the college and Lewiston High School were temporarily closed while police looked for Sonnen.

Sonnen did not return to his room Thursday night, but was found Friday walking toward his dormitory. Police had it under surveillance.

Sonnen was taken to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, where he will undergo a mental health evaluation, Blair said.

Under Idaho law, suspects deemed a threat to the public or themselves by a doctor or a judge can be held 72 hours for evaluation.

“If a person is an imminent danger to themselves or others, the police are empowered to take them into custody even against their will,” Blair said.

The decision to temporarily close the high school was made after talking to Lewis-Clark security officers and Lewiston police, said Lewiston School District Superintendent Joy Rapp.

Lewis-Clark administrators sent an e-mail to students, faculty and staff advising them of the situation, said Bert Sahlberg, the college’s communication director.

Residence hall assistants also were notified so they could knock on doors, warning students on campus of the threat.

Security officers set up barricades at campus entrances and told visitors the college was closed.

“The threat was taken seriously,” Sahlberg said.

Blair said Sonnen has a history of mental illness and was hospitalized after making similar threats at Prairie High School in Cottonwood, Idaho.

Sonnen allegedly said he planned to go to his father’s home, 70 miles away, to get a rifle, but Sonnen’s father was warned his son might be on his way.

Blair said Sonnen also told people he had a hit list that included his mother and sister.

Sonnen will not be charged with a crime, Blair said. “It’s more of a mental issue than a criminal issue at this time,” he said.

It’s unclear whether Sonnen will be allowed to return to Lewis-Clark State College.

“It’s all ‘allegedly’ now. We need to find out what happened,” said Sahlberg.

Elsewhere in the state, three schools in the Filer School District in Southern Idaho were evacuated Thursday after authorities said a school bus driver made bomb threats.

Albert Armstrong, 34, of Twin Falls, was charged Friday in 5th District Court with three counts of falsely reporting an explosive device in a public area.

He was being held in Twin Falls County Jail on $100,000 bond.

No explosives were found and school resumed Friday.

In southwest Idaho, two schools were locked down Wednesday morning amid concerns caused by a parent who attended a school board meeting the previous evening.

According to police, the parent wore a T-shirt with references to school shootings that read: “Columbine, Amish and Shadow Butte.”

Shadow Butte Elementary was one of the schools locked down Wednesday. Police said no arrests had been made.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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