In the fourth school-safety incident in five school days, yet another student, a 16-year-old attending Flagler Palm Coast High School, was arrested today on allegations that he threatened to shoot up the school. The student allegedly made the threats on Dec. 7 in front of two other students, 14 and 15-year-old girls, who only today filled out statements, leading to the boy’s arrest.
The girls did not initially report what they’d heard even though one of them “could not stop thinking about the possibility” that the boy would shoot up the school, according to a sheriff’s report, while another student told the second girl “that she could tell someone just in case he was not joking and she did not want to be part of the reason a shooting would occur at the school.” Both came forward in a week rife with similar incidents.
As has been the case again and again in similar situations, the student who was arrested said he had been joking, and had no intention to cause harm.
The 16 year old is the fourth student to be arrested since last Friday and the sixth to face charges–one stemming from a loaded-gun possession in school, two for making racist, violent threats about a teacher, and two others for making threats of shooting up Indian Trails Middle School. Two of the four incidents involve FPC students, one a Buddy Taylor Middle School student.
The two students who reported the incident filled out statements before 11 this morning. One of the girls described its origin: she was walking with the 16 year old boy to attendance on Dec. 7 when she heard him chuckle as he spoke of shooting up the school. Not knowing him very well, she said she wasn’t sure if he was serious, but she got worried when he told her he would text her the day of the shooting to warn her to stay home. The girl reported being “more uncertain than scared,” but then kept thinking about what she’d heard.
The other girl was walking with the boy and the girl at the same time. She recalled the boy actually referring to who he would kill first, though she couldn’t remember any names. She told a deputy that she was in fear for her life, and that “she just wanted to tell someone instead of not saying anything.” If she explained to authorities why she had not spoken up before, the sheriff’s report did not include that explanation.
The boy who allegedly made the threats waived his rights, agreed to speak to a deputy in the presence of Toussaint Roberson, the dean, and allegedly confessed. He said he told one of the girls he’d text her the day of the supposed shooting because he liked her “as a friend and would not want her to get hurt.” But he again said it was a joke. He understood that he’d put the girls “in a bad situation.”
FPC’s administration and student body were not aware of the latest arrests until this afternoon, after the two girls came forward. “Whenever a report is made to us then we work quickly to find the students involved,” Jason Wheeler, the district’s spokesman, said. “As soon as administration was made aware this morning, that’s when they got the parties involved.” He acknowledged the gap between the day of the actual, alleged incident and its public revelation. “We’re only as good as the information we’re given. We act as soon as we’re given that information,” he said, stressing the see-something-say-something approach school and police officials have been stressing since February’s school massacre in south Florida. The motto implies saying something immediately.
“Once we understood where everything was, a message was sent to staff, then we went ahead and sent a message to families,” Wheeler said–a recorded phone message that the incident took place, was investigated by the Sheriff’s Office, and that the student was charged. FPC Principal Bob Wallace also urged families, as he had to do in his previously recorded message, to talk with children and impress on them that law enforcement is taking a hard line against these types of crimes.
There was a clear sense of exasperation in the official response, both from the school district and the sheriff’s office, after today’s reported incident.
“This is the sixth juvenile charged in Flagler County while at school since last Friday,” Sheriff Rick Staly was quoted as saying in a release. “This behavior must stop! Kids – stop threatening violence. Parents – talk to your children, now! This is not a joking matter. When these incidents occur, we will continue to investigate and make the appropriate charges. I’m proud of the witnesses who came forward and notified staff of the statements. They did the right thing by reporting it so we could investigate.”
Superintendent Jim Tager focused on the collective reaction of students eager to maintain their schools’ safety: “We are seeing, time and time again, where students are not allowing a few of their classmates to get away with these threats,” Tager said. “It will take all of us working together to get the word out about how seriously we take each and every threat.”
There are plans to go further on school campuses. At Rymfire Elementary, for example, principal LaShakia Moore plans to go to every fourth, fifth and sixth grade classroom come Monday to speak to the students about the headlines they’ve been seeing about these incidents and to caution them about being careful about what they say and what they joke about. Asked about similar possibilities on other campuses, Wheeler said that it’s likely administrators will be fanning out to classrooms as well, rather than hold large assemblies.
Just as unquestionably, school officials, if not sheriff’s deputies, are counting down the days to next Thursday, when the district goes on its two-week Christmas break.
The 16-year-old student at the center of this latest incident was charged with False Report Concerning the Use of Firearms in a Violent Manner, a felony. He was to be processed at the county jail then turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice, which usually remands children back to their parents, if the child doesn’t have a concerning past record.