Threats, rumors prompt school closure, arrests, additional police presence

Published: Friday, Dec. 21 2012 11:25 a.m. MST

Following a week of continuous rumors, several schools across Utah increased police presence on their campuses Friday, apparently out of an abundance of caution. One school canceled classes altogether.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

HYRUM, Cache County — Following a week of continuous rumors, several schools across Utah increased police presence on their campuses Friday, apparently out of an abundance of caution.

One school canceled classes altogether. Two students in Roosevelt were arrested after police say they threatened to bring a gun to school and "do what they did in Connecticut." And five students at Syracuse High School will be referred to juvenile court for charges of disrupting a school for allegedly bringing an old home video game system to the school and telling other students it was a bomb, according to the school district.

Despite the extra police presence, none of the affected schools reported having any substantive information that their buildings were in imminent risk of a violent episode.

"Rumors have been going on all week. A lot of the rumors centered around (Friday). And whether that's the perfect storm, I don't know. But you put in there the last day of school before Christmas break, the Mayan calendar, and the shooting that occurred in Connecticut, that's the perfect storm," said Davis County School District spokesman Chris Williams. "I think people have been hypersensitive. I'm not faulting anyone by any stretch of the imagination."

Late Thursday, an 11th-hour decision was made to cancel Friday's classes at Mountain Crest High School in the Cache County School District following word of a possible threat. The action was taken after a female student twice overheard a group of boys talking in the cafeteria about what she thought was some sort of violent action that would take place on Friday.

"On two separate occasions she heard some boys talking about how someone is going to take their life tomorrow and maybe take other students with them," said Cache School District Superintendent Steve Norton.

The student did not mention what she heard until she got home and told her father, who in turn called police. Officers then notified the district. Norton said the district spent three to four hours trying to identify the boys who made the alleged statements, but the girl said she didn't get a good look at them because her back was turned to them. By 11:30 p.m., Norton said the decision was made to cancel school the next day for the 1,700 students at the high school.

"The lesson we have learned from studying other (school shooting) incidents is that there were kids in every case who knew and heard something was going to happen, so there was nothing we could do but take it very seriously," he said.

Norton noted that students were only scheduled to attend a half-day of school Friday anyway because of the Christmas break. He hopes that during the break, if there are students who have information about a threat, that they or their parents will step forward.

Mountain Crest sophomore Ammon Christensen was greeted Friday morning at the bus stop by a driver who said, “I’m only taking kids to South Cache today. I’m not picking up students from Mountain Crest.”

Christensen, a 15-year-old student from Wellsville, had seen posts on Facebook indicating a possible school cancellation, but he had no idea what was going on. “When I woke up this morning, my first thought was ‘Oh, crap. I have a book report due today.’ Then, when I heard the news, I was like, ‘Oh, crap. This is crazy.”

Shortly after 7 a.m., the high school's automated parent alert system sent out a cryptic message saying, “Due to an unverified threat at Mountain Crest High School, we have decided to err on the side of caution. School is canceled today. Happy holidays.”

“From the way they handled this, I can tell they were really on top of things,” said Zach Swensen, a 16-year-old student at Mountain Crest. “I feel like Mountain Crest is still a pretty safe school, and when it comes time to go back to school next year, I’ll think I’ll be pretty safe.”

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