There were fewer students at Mountain View High School and more police officers on campus Tuesday, following rumors, spread through social media, of a shooting planned to take place there.
Although about half of students didn’t attend Mountain View Tuesday, the school had a regular schedule, and students there were in “good spirits,” according to the high school’s principal. But instead of the regular school resource officer on campus, several Bend Police officers were there — and they handed out crowns and robes to the homecoming princesses.
The situation may have been started by word of mouth among teens who may have altered an original message, Julianne Repman, the school district’s communications director, said late Tuesday afternoon.
“The investigation is still underway but what we’re beginning to hear is we might have a game of telephone taking place where students are hearing misinformation and it’s getting lost in translation, perhaps,” Repman said.
Repman said Bend-La Pine and Bend Police, which is investigating the incident, take any threat, or rumor of a threat, seriously. Even if nothing happens after a threat, there is the potential for “copy cats” which both entities also want to prevent, she said.
Concern surfaced Monday after a number of students told their families, school staff and law enforcement that evening about “a statement made on social media about a rumored shooting” planned to take place at Mountain View, Mountain View Principal Katie Legace said in a letter to parents late Monday.
The students who reported the social media post had either seen it or heard about it, according to Legace, who sent the letter at 9:45 p.m. Monday. Law enforcement and Bend-La Pine staff worked “into the night” to find the source of the rumor. They would not say Tuesday if they had found the source.
Although similar incidents have occurred before, with threats to local schools, Bend Police look at each of them on a case-by-case basis, said Lt. Clint Burleigh, a department spokesman.
“Every incident’s not the same,” he said. “We’re dealing with human nature, people, so every threat that comes through is not the same.”
Burleigh said he could not recall any threats similar to this in Bend that came through as credible. But he said school wouldn’t have taken place Tuesday “in an atmosphere we felt like was going to be dangerous.”
Calls that students made to the local non-emergency line Monday night helped police, Burleigh said.
In an updated letter to parents Tuesday morning, Legace emphasized the school does not tolerate these type of threats.
“Anyone found making any type of a threat to any of our schools will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” she said.
Lillah Lehner, a Deschutes County deputy district attorney, has prosecuted a number of cases involving juveniles making similar threats.
“These kind of threats use a lot of resources,” Lehner said. “Officers will try to find out where they’re initially started, and it’s so hard with social media, and generally teenagers use Snapchatting.”
Snapchat, a popular social media application, allows people to exchange photos, videos and messages that automatically delete themselves after a few seconds.
“That’s why it takes so many resources to try to interview all the kids who saw it or heard something about it,” Lehner said.
The charges a juvenile can face for making such threats vary, Lehner said. In Deschutes County, the district attorney’s office considers a number of factors, including whether a juvenile has a gun when contacted by police as well as the juvenile’s personal life. The DA’s office does a risk assessment on juveniles which includes looking at the person’s family situation, mental health and drug use.
If a juvenile has a gun when contacted, the teen can be charged at a felony level, Lehner said. Without a weapon, a common charge for making such a threat is disorderly conduct, “even when a kid is probably joking, either out of frustration or acting out,” Lehner said.
Lehner said the punishment isn’t meant only to teach the teen a lesson, but to make it clear the behavior is not tolerated in the community. While free speech is protected, Lehner said it’s not OK when speech or messages include threats or references to causing harm.
A juvenile charged with disorderly conduct generally isn’t sent to a detention center, but put on probation. The teen is assigned a community justice officer, just like a probation officer for adults. Whether or not a juvenile charged with a crime can continue at a given school is up to the school, Lehner said. Bend-La Pine’s Repman said students can face suspension or expulsion, depending on the incident.
In spite of the situation Tuesday, Repman said the mood at Mountain View was high. A couple of students brought treats, including brownies, to Mountain View’s principal to provide comfort, and even though a homecoming assembly didn’t take place in the gym as planned, the high school still announced homecoming princesses over the intercom system.
Other than shorter lines for lunch and fewer students in the hallway, the school day was mostly business as usual, Repman said, adding the school district was OK with parents keeping kids at home if that’s what they felt was best.
“It’s that parent choice; there was no penalty today for a family that wanted a student to stay home,” Repman said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org