School threats: New year, same old story

Football games latest to be hit by irritating string of bomb threats


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See Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones talk about the struggles of maintaining school security at journal-news.com

The new school year is starting off worse than last school year ended, with a rash of violent threats.

Those menaces have now spread to targeting popular high school football games, and there is little optimism things will improve soon, say national and local security experts.

Last winter school threats became violent reality when an armed Madison High School student opened fire on classmates, injuring four.

The spring saw schools in Springboro, Lebanon and other districts disrupted by numerous threats of violence and bombs, forcing lockdowns and evacuations.

Shortly after classes began for the 2016-2017 school year — and for the first time in Mason High School history — officials in the affluent Warren County city had to shut down and reschedule a Friday night football game in response to a bomb threat.

The same Sept. 9 evening saw fans evacuated at the end of Colerain High School’s football game in Hamilton County.

On the following Monday in Butler County, Lakota West High School officials and West Chester Township Police scrambled in response to a bomb threat that ended in the arrest of a student.

And earlier this week, Clermont County's West Clermont district locked down some schools and temporarily evacuated students due to bomb and violence threats.

National school security experts and local police leaders predict the trend will worsen.

“There are no boundaries for school bomb and shooting threats, so we can expect them to target extracurricular events just as they are pounding schools during the regular academic day,” said Ken Trump, president of Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services.

170 school threats

In Ohio, more than 170 school threats were reported in the 2015-16 school year, according to an Associated Press tally based on police updates and media coverage.

Threats of bombs, shootings and unspecified violence were called in, written as notes, scrawled on walls and shared via social media and apps. More than 100 Ohio public school districts — roughly one in every six — dealt with at least one threat, as did a handful of private and charter schools and several college-level facilities.

The number of school bomb threats this past academic year alone, based on media reports, totaled at least 1,267, roughly twice as many as in 2012-13, researcher Amy Klinger, who is co-founder and director of the Educators School Safety Network, recently told the AP.

The investigation into the threat against Mason’s football game continues. Mason Police Detective Sean McCormick says his department is working with the FBI and coordinating with other police departments in southwest Ohio where schools have recently been hit with threats.

“We’re trying to piece together all the pieces and we’re trying to partner with other area agencies,” says McCormick.

The complicated nature of phoned or computer-messaged threats — often routed through numerous domestic and international faux numbers or IP (Internet Protocol) computer address — makes quick solving of such cases difficult.

“The biggest challenge for us is that these cases have a lot of technological leads that we have to sift through,” he says.

Threats and technology

Years before the recent uptick in school threats, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones was grabbing national attention for his aggressive push to strengthen local school security.

Jones, who has advocated unsuccessfully for former police and military personnel to work as armed substitute teachers in schools, says the threat trend is as historic as it is dismaying.

“We’re almost chasing our tails; we are more reactive than we are proactive,” said Jones. “We don’t know who is going to do it before they do it. And as technology evolves we try to evolve with it, but it evolves so fast it is all we can do to hang on to it.

“These young people (suspects) are always ahead of us. They were born with a cell phone in their hands. Last year we were having bomb threats coming from other states and even other countries. It is to disrupt and cause mayhem, which it does.”

But Jones remains resolute. He cites his Butler County SWAT and bomb detection squads as among the best-trained and equipped in Ohio. Moreover, he said continued assistance from the FBI and federal Homeland Security officials tilts the advantage toward law enforcement.

“I’m not going to get into any details about what we have or are doing, but we have evolved,” said Jones, who adds Butler County’s 10 school districts also have evolved when it comes to protecting their students.

“We are all up to speed. The schools train right along with law enforcement. We are all the same in how we train.”

But, he adds, “this is going to be a long (school) year.”

“I’d like to tell you it’s going to get better, but it is not.”