Flow of threats to school across metro Atlanta slows

Credit: AP Photo / Mark Lennihan

Credit: AP Photo / Mark Lennihan

Several posts floating around social media on March 1 threatened violence toward students at DeKalb County’s Lakeside High School.

The next day, about one-third of the school’s 2,000 students did not attend classes.

Natalie Stembel, a sophomore at the school, said 16 people were absent from her math class, where a test had been scheduled.

“People genuinely didn’t know what would happen if they came to school,” she said.

Across Metro Atlanta, school districts and local law enforcement investgated at least 100 threats. Investigators know that highly publicized events such as the mass shooting February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 died and 16 were wounded, attract copycats for various reasons.

The effects of the Florida shooting rippled through local school districts for two weeks, but are slowing. The only residual effect is the punishment that has been or will be meted to some of those who made the threats.

In a sign that things are returning to normal, less than a dozen threats came in across metro Atlanta districts last week — the third since the Florida mass shooting.

DeKalb County School District officials said they investigated 59 threats of violence, including the March 1 posts about Lakeside High School. All the local threats were unsubstantiated.

Gwinnett County Schools officials said the district has investigated 54 threats since the Florida school shooting through March 8. Clayton County Public Schools officials acknowledged a request for the number of threats its public safety department has investigated since the South Florida school shooting, but did not respond with figures. Fulton County has investigated at least a dozen.

Fulton County School System spokeswoman Carla Murphy said at least three Northwestern Middle School students requested approved absences through the school's principal following the threat received against that school. It was unclear how many students missed school across the region due to threats, as absences already have been abnormally high due to a nasty flu season which has claimed at least 118 this flu season in Georgia and caused more than 2,000 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta alone.

Cobb County Schools spokesman John Stafford said none of the district’s schools has closed due to any type of threat since Feb. 14. He added that it would take the district time to compile a list of threats investigated at the district’s 112 schools. Atlanta Public Schools officials acknowledged a request for the information, but did not respond with figures in time for publication.

The threats have only resulted in a handful of arrests in metro Atlanta, including a Gwinnett County high school student who shared on social media a video of an ammunition clip being loaded into a gun while someone says “South Gwinnett, you’re next.”

A middle school student at Fulton County’s Northwestern Middle School in Milton was arrested after sharing threats to students on social media. He’s not allowed back at the school, district officials said.

Georgians making such threats typically are charged with making a terrorist threat, a misdemeanor, unless a death threat is specifically made. Terroristic death threats are a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, between one and five years in prison or a combination of both.

DeKalb Schools insinuated that a Peachtree Charter Middle School student could have faced criminal charges after he was seen cocking a gun in a Snapchat video captioned: “Don’t come to school tomorrow.” The student received a three-day in-school suspension.

“DCSD followed its procedures and protocols after becoming aware of the social media threat, including taking disciplinary action against the student involved per the Student Code of Conduct,” Superintendent Steve Green said through a spokesman. “There are other facets of this incident that cannot be shared publicly due to FERPA, including law enforcement proceedings. However, DCSD will always act in the best interest of its students and will take the necessary and available steps at its disposal in order to ensure the safety of students and staff members.”

Before the Lakeside High School threat, students began planning their part in the national walk-out on gun violence on March 14. Natalie, the sophomore, is one of the organizers. She said more than 100 people are involved in a protest group chat, including volunteers and participants. Organizers are working hard to make sure people know the protest is more than just an excuse to skip class, she said.

“My motivation … is just knowing how important it is that we do something and how my school could quite possibly be next,” she said. “It’s time — it’s been time — to stand up.”