Police investigating Free State student who allegedly threatened shooting on social media; principal says disciplinary action will be taken

Free State High School

Lawrence police are investigating a message by a Free State High School student who reportedly threatened to shoot people at school.

A Free State student reported to school staff that another Free State student made an “indirect threat” on Snapchat about killing people, district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said via email. She did not disclose what the Snapchat post said.

On Tuesday morning, Lawrence police confirmed that just after 8 p.m. Monday, officers responded to a west Lawrence residence regarding a threatening comment posted to a social media site. One person was taken to a medical facility for evaluation, according to Sgt. Amy Rhoads.

Police provided no further information about the incident but said an affidavit had been submitted to the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office.

When contacted Tuesday, the DA’s office said it was not able to provide additional information.

On Tuesday afternoon, Free State Principal Myron Graber sent an email to parents assuring them that the suspect, who was “threatening a school shooting,” was “quickly identified and apprehended” and that appropriate disciplinary action would be taken. He also said that the threat on social media did not have a particular target and was quickly removed.

“I know that we are all concerned about school safety given the recent events,” Graber said, adding, “we greatly appreciate the watchful eye and communication that you provide us, specifically in the social media era.”

Boyle said that in addition to notifying the police department, the district also sent a recorded message to all Free State parents and staff Monday. That phone call occurred around 10:40 p.m.

The district said it would continue to work with the police department on the incident and would keep the public informed about the investigation when more information is made available.

The incident regarding Free State happened just five days after 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Boyle said an increased police presence at Free State High School, 4700 Overland Drive, was planned for Tuesday, but the district ended up canceling all classes because of Tuesday’s ice storm. However, Boyle said “there will be a police presence at school” on Wednesday.

When asked if the district could reassure people that the student would not be allowed back in school, Boyle said the district was unable to share any further details related to the student “due to student privacy rights.”

In his email Tuesday, Graber said the district continued to evaluate safety plans.

“Free State will not tolerate threats and will take all of the necessary steps to maintain a safe school environment,” he said.

Josh Powers, a Lawrence resident and father of a Free State student, said he felt the district’s response to the incident was “adequate and appropriate.” At the same time, he expressed concern about the lack of information available to parents.

“We don’t know who the student was or what the threat was — and may never know,” he said, adding that the school district was in a tough spot between abiding by the letter of the law with regard to student privacy and responding to the legitimate concerns of parents and students. “I honestly don’t have enough information about what happened to feel safe sending my kid back to school — to Free State or to any school.”

“I had to have a very uncomfortable and sad conversation with my daughter,” he said, regarding his explanation to her of the school’s message. “We need an honest conversation locally and nationally. We’re in a sad place right now.”

Hilary Morton, a music teacher at Free State, said teachers at the school found out about the threat the same way parents did, by a late-night phone call. She said teachers were not told anything about the student or what the threat was.

“We all feel like we would like to know who it is so that we can have a better understanding of how to conduct our classrooms,” she said. But she praised the district for taking the threat seriously and making staff and parents aware of it. “At this point, we need to take every threat seriously.”

Morton said that teachers at the school conduct periodic safety drills, which include locking doors, turning off lights, and getting students away from windows, among other things.

“Kids always ask me ‘did you do this in high school?” And Morton, who graduated from high school a year before the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, tells them, “No, I didn’t; this is scary.”