Crime & Courts

School threats lead to arrests throughout SC

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School shootings, including a "code red" threat at Wando High School, top concern at rally in February supporting SC gun legislation
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School shootings, including a "code red" threat at Wando High School, top concern at rally in February supporting SC gun legislation

Law enforcement officers from around South Carolina continue to field calls about threats to schools two weeks after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, that left 17 people dead on Valentine’s Day.

Even as Gov. Henry McMaster schedules a summit on school safety in the wake of the Florida shooting, the list of those involved in incidents continues to grow. Some, but not all of the incidents include:

▪ In the Upstate, Anderson County Sheriff’s Office charged a 14-year-old student at Riverside Middle School with disturbing schools after other students received threatening text messages.

▪ Abbeville County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 15-year-old student who allegedly posted threats to Abbeville High School on Snapchat.

▪ In a separate incident, Abbeville County Sheriff’s Office brought charges against a 17-year-old for making bomb threats at a Calhoun Falls Charter School.

▪ A freshman student at Broome High School in Spartanburg was charged with disturbing schools after posting a photo of himself holding up a gun and the words “Round 2 of Florida tomorrow.”

▪ In the Midlands, a Gilbert High School student was charged with disturbing schools, harassment and breach of peace, according to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

The student allegedly threatening to shoot some of his classmates and their family members, the sheriff’s department said. He was detained at his home.

▪ Also in Lexington, a Chapin High School student was charged with making a threat of violence after a photo circulated showing the words “Shooting up the school tomorrow!” written on a bathroom wall at the high school.

▪ Orangeburg County Sheriff’s deputies charged a 24-year-old man with making threats to two Orangeburg County high schools.

▪ In Richland County, a 17-year-old was taken into custody after allegedly threatening to shoot up Westwood High School, near Blythewood.

Though there is no single profile for school shooters, people at risk for hurting themselves or others often exhibit warning signs before committing acts of violence. Knowing the signs can help prevent crimes and get people the help they need.

Currently, while each county solicitor’s office in South Carolina may have different penalties, according to the Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office (Richland and Kershaw counties), the statute for a person charged and found guilty of disturbing schools carries a fine of not more than one thousand dollars or county jail for not more than ninety days.

There is a bill moving through the SC Legislature that would stiffen the penalties for anyone making a threat to schools in the state, making it a crime to threaten to cause damage, injury or death with a “dangerous weapon or instrument” at a school.

The proposal creates a serious enough charge that anyone arrested would have to go before a judge who could order a mental health evaluation or other services, said Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, sponsor of the bill.

Should the bill pass, it would be applied statewide and make it a misdemeanor to threaten a school with a dangerous weapon or instrument. Persons found guilty could be charged with up to a $2,000 fine and two years in prison. A threat that results in damage to property — also a misdemeanor — would be punishable by up to a $3,000 fine and three years in jail.

A threat resulting in injury or death would be a felony. Offenders would face a fine of up to $5,000 and five years in jail as well as other charges.

Even though some threats were eventually deemed not credible, law enforcement was involved in the following incidents:

▪ A 13-year-old girl attending Chestnut Oaks Middle School in Sumter County who allegedly threatened to “shoot the school down.”

▪ A threat of violence against Camden High School made via Snapchat.

▪ A threat to Dillon High School, located about 45 minutes from Florence.

▪ A “false rumor” of a shooting at Lugoff-Elgin High School in Kershaw County.

▪ Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office took to Facebook to quell rumors of a shooting threat at Fairfield Central High School.

▪ Richland School District 2 looked into a threat at Richland Northeast High School and the school principal issued a statement to parents about incidents and safety at the school.

McMaster’s gathering of law enforcement, educators and school crisis experts on Thursday, March 1, in Columbia is in collaboration with USC’s Children’s Law Center and the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children. In his Executive Budget for 2018-19, McMaster is proposing a $5 million pilot program that would put a certified law enforcement officer in every school in the state, all day, every day, as well as fully funding the Department of Mental Health’s request of $250,000 for school-based services.

In the State of the State address in January 2018, Gov. McMaster said he wants trained police officers posted in all SC schools at all times.