Ominous and threatening messages were discovered Friday morning in restrooms at two Spokane Valley high schools, prompting one of the schools to evacuate all students and cancel classes for the day.
Central Valley High School went into lockdown after a threat was discovered on the wall of a girls’ restroom at about 8:15 a.m. When the lockdown was lifted at about 9 a.m., some students were escorted to their cars while hundreds of others were bused to a nearby church to be picked up by parents and guardians.
School and law enforcement officials did not reveal the contents of the threat but stressed that the lockdown and evacuation measures were only precautionary. No weapons were found, and authorities were seeking to identify the person responsible.
“In our society today we need to take every caution that we can to make sure that our students and staff are safe,” said Marla Nunberg, a spokeswoman for the Central Valley School District. “So it’s with that in mind that we made these actions.”
At about 11 a.m., a second message was discovered in a boys’ restroom at East Valley High School, about 4 miles north of Central Valley.
According to a statement from East Valley Superintendent Kelly Shea, the message in the restroom warned, “11-25-19 Don’t come to school. Don’t gotta believe me.”
Shea said administrators and East Valley’s school resource deputy were “investigating the matter to determine the credibility of the message and identify who wrote it.” He urged parents and guardians to question their students and send any information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
East Valley still planned to hold classes on Monday, though Shea said that could change as the investigation continues over the weekend.
Shea said the school was requesting a heightened law enforcement presence, and absences would be excused if parents choose to keep their kids at home Monday. However, students who don’t attend classes won’t be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, he said.
“There are lots of questions and I apologize for not having the answers, but we are determined to get to the bottom of this and ensure the safety and security of our students and staff,” he said.
The nature of the threat at Central Valley was unclear Friday.
Cpl. Mark Gregory, a spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, described it as a “general” threat that didn’t target any individual. It made no mention of bombs or explosives, and no weapons were found, he said.
School resource deputies were involved in the decision to cancel classes for the day, Gregory said.
“Obviously these are taken very seriously, and if we are able to learn the identity of the person that wrote this message, it will be brought forward and prosecuted to the fullest extent that we can,” he said. “This is not a joke. It causes fear. It causes uncertainty to the students and the staff that are here trying to learn to try to better their lives.”
The sheriff’s office said anyone with information about the threat should call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233. The reference number for the case is 10165499.
During the evacuation, Central Valley students were bused a few blocks away to Eastpoint Church, 15303 E. Sprague Ave. Buses dropped them off in the back of the church, while parents and guardians formed long lines in the front to retrieve their children.
Those leaving with their children at about 10 a.m. said it took less than 20 minutes to get through the line.
Tiffany Shakespeare, who was waiting to pick up her daughter, said she was happy with the district’s response.
“It seems like it’s efficient. They have a plan in place,” she said. “It’s cold, but it’s good to know everybody’s safe.”
Many parents said they had been scared when the school contacted them about the lockdown, but texts or calls from their children reassured them everything was OK.
Paula-Joe Gäss, a senior at Central Valley, said that when the alarm went off, she was nervous, but mostly for her younger sister, Clarissa, a freshman. The two girls were in different classes, and Paula-Joe wasn’t sure what was happening, or where her sister was.
“Not to be a big sister, but I wanted to make sure she was OK,” she said.
Clarissa Gäss said she was afraid and didn’t feel safe until the school principal arrived to talk to them. She borrowed a friend’s phone to call her family, and the sisters were reunited after evacuating to the church.
Tess Demars, a sophomore, said she wasn’t scared until the police arrived.
“When I heard there were police cars, I thought, ‘OK, this is no longer a drill,’ ” Demars said. “I thought something was really happening, and I got really scared.”
Demars said she prayed the whole time and texted her mom and her older brother.
Students had to leave their backpacks behind when they evacuated the school. Nunberg, the Central Valley spokeswoman, said the school would contact families when they could retrieve their belongings.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Nov. 23, 2019, to correct a pronoun referring to East Valley School District Superintendent Kelly Shea.
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