Police detained and interviewed a suspect Wednesday in connection with threats of a school shooting at Lewis and Clark High School.
The suspect was located and identifed Wednesday afternoon by police as a Lewis and Clark student. He likely will face a juvenile felony charge. Because he is a minor, his identity will not be released.
Following the threats, which were made on social media, more than half of the school’s student body elected to stay home Wednesday.
At final count Wednesday afternoon, Kevin Morrison, spokesman for Spokane Public Schools, said 982 of the school’s roughly 1,700 students were absent for either excused or unexcused reasons.
“We wish they were in school,” Morrison said. “Obviously, it does disrupt the educational process, to a degree, when you have to start looking at materials and the curriculum, making adjustments for our educators.”
Morrison couldn’t say whether the absences Wednesday would extend the school year – that decision would be made by the school board and the superintendent. The last day of school for the district is June 14.
The board of directors of Spokane Public Schools and Superintendent Shelley Redinger declined to comment.
Police Chief Craig Meidl said the department had taken the threats seriously throughout the two-daylong investigation. Investigations into these types of crimes, especially when they’re made anonymously, take time, he said.
“We had a recent threat for one of our schools that we tracked out of the country,” he said. “This person used a ghost IP address that we tracked out of the country. We obviously don’t think they live out of the country, but (tracking the threat) takes a lot of time and resources.”
Despite having identified the suspect, Meidl said extra patrols would be posted around area schools Thursday.
Those students who did go to school Wednesday entered the building’s main doors flanked by two officers, as additional officers sat in patrol cars nearby. Morrison said that altogether, four resource officers were present in addition to an undisclosed number of Spokane Police Department employees.
Morrison said they were there to “make a presence.”
“Especially at the doors for students and adults entering,” he said. “Their presence there is a deterrent.”
On Tuesday morning, Spokane Public Schools officials were alerted to unspecified threats made to students on social media. Those threats appear to have been made on Instagram, according to a screen shot provided by KHQ News, where an account named steven_smith_4 indicates there’s a “special date planned for LCHS before the end of the school.”
“Be ready,” the account’s biography section reads. “I’m [sorry] ahead of time for those who will not be alive the next day.”
A second threat was reported Tuesday evening, allegedly from the same account, which replied to a comment by saying “I’m going to shoot up LC!!!!!!”
Several parents reported their children had received targeted messages from the account, leading students and parents to believe they came from a student.
In response, the district sent a robocall to parents Tuesday night, echoing an initial message sent Tuesday morning in which police said they did not believe any of the threats were credible.
“However,” the message continued, “multiple law enforcement agencies are involved in locating the individual/individuals responsible for the messages.”
Morrison said the threats did not impact day-to-day school activities Wednesday, including after-school events. Students were free to move about the hallways, but when outside, were advised to stay on a direct path.
Still, and according to comments on Facebook, many parents remained concerned and decided to keep their children home.
Abbey Crawford, a local actress, made the decision Tuesday night to have her son, a senior, and daughter, a sophomore, stay home from school.
“She was terrified last night,” she said of her daughter. “She was terrified that she didn’t know what would happen to her friends.”
Crawford questioned why the district and police department were continuing to say the threats weren’t credible without offering any reasoning.
“The warnings they got about Parkland,” she said, “they didn’t deem those credible either.”
The student’s account alleged to have made the threats has since been deleted.
This incident is at least the fourth school or bombing threat in the Spokane and surrounding areas since early April.
On April 11, a middle-school student in the Central Valley School District made threats to other students on Snapchat, where he said there was “going to be a school shooting tomorrow.” The message was sent with a picture of a BB gun rifle. He was arrested and charged with a felony.
On April 17, a 15-year-old high school student in the Liberty School District was arrested and charged with a felony after he allegedly posted Snapchat videos about sexual assault and bombing his school, according to the sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said at the time that “Spokane County will have a zero-tolerance policy for making threats toward shooting up a school or classmates, and if you make such threats, we will arrest you.”
Three days later, a student in the Coeur d’Alene School District was arrested for posting a nonspecific threat on social media.
Since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida, Crawford said there’s been a tangible shift in the way high school students approach and talk about school shootings. Both of her children participated in the walkout last month, something she encouraged.
“The children of Parkland, the way that they handled their reaction, was so completely grown up,” she said. “It was more grown up than the government. Than the NRA.”
In the aftermath of school shootings nationwide, the FBI said there is often an “increase in hoax threats to schools and other public places,” according to a recent report. In March, USA Today reported there were more than 600 copycat threats following Parkland.
As a result, the FBI said it has investigated a “number of hoax threats” across the country, which are always taken “very seriously.”
“Hoax threats are not a joke, and they can have devastating consequences – both for the public and for the perpetrators,” the agency posted on its website.
A spokesperson said Wednesday that the FBI is not involved in an investigation at Lewis and Clark.
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