The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Confusion across country about which 'CHS' threatened

 

April 13, 2018



CLOVIS — Word travels fast these days, but sometimes context happens slowly.

That was the case for a number of schools across the country this week after a social media post last week by a Clovis High School student threatening violence at “CHS” spread online to identically-abbreviated high schools, resulting in a flurry of concern for some and closure for others.

Locally, the incident was handled quickly after being reported close to midnight on April 5. Clovis Municipal Schools staff were alerted that night to a Snapchat image of a student holding what looked to be a rifle with the captions “F*** CHS I’m going out with a bang” and “don’t go to school tmrw.”

The 17-year old depicted in the image was arrested early the next morning and charged with the “delinquent act of aggravated assault on a school employee,” said police, and classes continued that day, though with a Level 1 Lockdown in effect for “an abundance of caution,” according to a CMS news release.

That student remained in custody this weekend but was released this week on conditions to stay off social media pending further court appearances, District Attorney Andrea Reeb confirmed.

Yet even with the offender in custody and local news reports addressing the issue by the morning of April 6, problems were only starting for schools and police departments in Colorado, Idaho, Missouri and Massachusetts, among others.

For Clayton High School, the vagueness of the social media threat combined with the timing of its appearance in Missouri made for a perfect storm.

“My phone rang about 2 a.m. Monday morning and it was our school resource officer calling me,” said Chris Tennill, the school district’s chief communications officer. “A student of ours had posted that (Snapchat threat image) some point after midnight Sunday night.”

Officials immediately set to investigate the origin of the post, but their deadline to alert students, parents and staff one way or another was mere hours away.

“We had given ourselves a 4:30 a.m. deadline, if we didn’t have a lot of things clarified by then,” he told The News. “Obviously, there’s not the ability to have an investigation move at lightning speed when you start at 2:30, 3 a.m. on a Monday morning. ... We were also looking all around Google for that picture everywhere. I was even Googling some of the phrases that were posted in that Snapchat picture.”

Clayton Police eventually traced the image to Clovis around 9:30 a.m. that day, Tennill said, but by then it was too late. Almost 900 students at the high school there already had the day off, not to mention those at a couple early childhood classrooms on the same campus.

“You have to take every one of these seriously. It was one thing 10 years ago when somebody scrawled a bomb threat on the bathroom wall; information about that didn’t necessarily travel as quickly, so you have quite a bit more lead time,” he explained. “With social media and the speed that we all communicate these days, you don’t have that luxury anymore. You have to be prepared to make those hard decisions. ... I think at the end of the day it’s how schools have to operate these days.”

Although other schools avoided closure, officials noted the importance of caution and diligence in addressing such incidents.

“I do have to say, there’s a phenomenon going across the country with these types of threats. It’s something to be taken seriously, though there are people taking advantage,” said Devra Ashby, Public Information Officer for Colorado Springs School District 11.

Ashby said Coronado High School’s principal notified her Sunday of the threatening image, but determined that same night it was from their neighbor state to the south. To calm fears and dispel further rumors, they put out a message and had extra security staff at school the following day.

It’s not the first time for that school, said Ashby, who noted a nearly identical previous incident concerning an “MHS” on the east coast, briefly confused with a Mitchell High School in the Colorado district.

Chelsea Public Schools in Massachusetts also addressed the CHS threat in a post on their official public Facebook page Monday morning, announcing it had been investigated while placing the event in a larger context.

“Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times that these incidents are becoming the weekly norm for schools throughout the nation; and, yet, we can never dismiss nor discourage our community members from reporting these concerns,” read the post.

In Idaho, “a flurry of communications” went out Monday morning across four school districts, each with a CHS of their own, said Nampa School District’s communications director.

“We did get some calls from concerned parents as well as some folks asking on Facebook about what was going on,” said Kathleen Tuck. “We just sent out a message letting people know that this was not affecting the schools in the Treasure Valley.”

Those schools were Columbia (in Nampa), Centennial (in Meridian), Capital (in Boise), and Caldwell, in the town of the same name.

Sgt. Tim Riha of the Nampa Police Department said agencies working together were able to allay those concerns quickly, but noted the new burden it places on school and law enforcement staff.

“I think when you have just the acronym of CHS, that can apply certainly to a lot of schools,” he told The News. “Anytime something like that spreads on social media it can impact the resources for police agencies all across the country.”

Reeb said she did not expect the cascading effects of the Clovis snapchat to impact the way local courts handle the offending juvenile.

“I don’t see any other case impacting how we prosecute this one,” she wrote in a message to The News. “We will look at the strength of the case and prosecute it based on that.”

 

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