Dozens of cellphone-clutching students spilled out of the front entrance of Lake City High School on Thursday afternoon, the final bell giving them freedoms that were temporarily taken away.
A series of anonymous threats to Lake City students via social media over the past several days had prompted the Coeur d’Alene Public Schools to restrict students from leaving campus and banning cellphone use until 2:30 p.m.
Police presence was heavy. Classrooms were locked from the inside. Students could only use the restroom between bells.
“About eight police officers were interviewing students throughout the day,” said Scott Maben, the school district’s public information officer.
Just before school ended Thursday, the Coeur d’Alene Police Department announced it had arrested a Lake City student for his connection to two of the threats. The most recent came Wednesday night when the teen allegedly posted a picture of a gun on social media with a threatening caption.
The student faces four misdemeanor counts of using a telephone to terrify, threaten or harass. Another boy also was sought by authorities for a threat, but will only face disciplinary action from the school district.
Police, school district administrators and the FBI have investigated three separate incidents since Oct. 6, two involving the student who was arrested Thursday.
The other boy, who wasn’t arrested, allegedly posted photos to social media that were perceived as threatening.
At school on Thursday, some students groused about spending their lunch break on campus, while others wondered why they couldn’t at least check their phones outside of class, teachers said.
But Lake City High Principal Deanne Clifford said she believed the measures were warranted, and they will continue Friday – exactly one month after a deadly shooting at Freeman High, just 31 miles away from the Lake City campus.
“These measures made people feel safe,” Clifford said. “We want parents to feel confident that we’re making the right decisions to make their kids feel safe.”
Parents and teachers also raised $1,200 Thursday as a reward to help find the suspects in the investigation, a measure she said “definitely helped.”
The reason cellphone use was banned for the day, Clifford said, was to keep students from being drawn into a situation where another threat could occur or a rumor of threat could start.
Logan Parson, a Lake City freshman, wasn’t thrilled about the restrictions Thursday, which included only one entryway into the school and one exit.
But Parson, donning a Lake City football jersey hours before his game Thursday, said he understood that the school was doing what it could to protect the students.
“If someone had to post (about what was going on), they were going to do the same threat, most likely,” Parson said in reference to the cellphone ban. “And that wouldn’t be good.”
According to Sarah Dunn, who has three children who attend Lake City, many students opted to skip school when they learned of the death threats, including her own.
Dunn said the school did a great job of keeping parents informed throughout the day, but is worried this could lead to a copycat situation.
“After seeing all the attention that it got, we are worried that when the precautions are let up another student will try to gain some sort of fame by acting out on it,” said Dunn, who said she isn’t confident to send her children back to school yet.
After Wednesday night’s threat, Clifford sent emails to parents, according to Karen Nope, whose son is Lake City senior.
Nope said Clifford told parents in the email that it was understandable if parents opted to keep their children home Thursday.
“I think the school handled the situation great,” Nope said. “And as for there being no cellphones and the school doors being locked, it should be that way anyway, regardless of what’s going on.”
In a letter posted on the school district’s webpage, Clifford asked parents to talk to their children about their use of social media apps, including Snapchat and Sarahah.
“What are they using to communicate with their peers? What are they sharing, and what is being shared with them? Are they seeing messages that cause them concern? We urge you to have these conversations now,” she said in her letter. “The increasing use of apps that allow for anonymous messages is of particular concern to us and law enforcement. These apps encourage the spread of reckless rumors, dangerous pranks, bullying and threats.”