School threat wasn’t what some thought
But parents, teachers support precautions
Parents and teachers generally were supportive this week of the decision by four of five county school districts to cancel classes Thursday after receiving a vague and possibly misrepresented warning about potential violence.
Broadcast news programs and online and social media reported that authorities had received a threat that students would bring guns to school in Marion County.
The actual 911 call, received more than 150 miles away, involved a somewhat different scenario.
Police in Kansas City, Missouri, received a call around midnight Wednesday night from someone claiming to be a student who said he feared he might be shot if he attended school the next day in a county named Marion.
He did not say whether the county was in Kansas, Missouri, or somewhere else.
Such calls are not unusual, a police spokesman said.
In fact, police in neighboring Kansas City, Kansas, received a call the same night from another student, suspended the day before, who said he planned to take a gun to his school in the Kansas City area.
That caller was identified, and the threat was determined not to be credible.
Because the Missouri caller could not be identified, police turned the information over to Kansas Bureau of Investigation and its Missouri counterpart.
Two Missouri school districts near Hannibal, 200 miles away, have the words “Marion County” in their names. They did not cancel classes, nor did the Goessel school district here.
Goessel superintendent Mark Crawford explained the situation Thursday in an early morning email to parents.
“Information regarding a vague threat was received early this morning intended for Marion County schools,” he wrote. “The message originated from Missouri, and we believe it is not credible. As always, if you see something, say something. School is still in session today.”
In response to broadcast, online, and social media reports about school closings in the Centre, Hillsboro, Marion-Florence, and Peabody-Burns districts, several parents took students out of school in Goessel.
That prompted Crawford to issue a follow-up email at 10 a.m.
“Crazy threats are sadly part of our world today,” he wrote. “My decision will not always be popular; however, based on what I know, school is where we need to be.”
He encouraged kids to be courteous toward police and state troopers brought in as a precaution to patrol school halls.
Superintendents were notified by local police chiefs after KBI relayed information about the 911 call to Sheriff Jeff Soyez.
A news release and social media posting by the Soyez accurately portrayed the information, terming it “a possible threat to an unknown individual in a Marion County school district in an unknown state.”
However, a KBI news release sent to out-of-town media characterized the same information as indicating “students were planning to bring guns to school in Marion County.”
The release went on to tout how KBI was working with “our partners” at the state Department of Education’s Safe and Secure Schools Unit to “monitor the situation.”
Hillsboro superintendent Max Heinrichs was notified of the situation by another superintendent even before police called.
“We met by phone and were discussing options — what we knew, what he had, what the actual facts were, what we had to actually work on,” Heinrichs said. “Buses were waiting because we would not let them go.”
After he got off the phone, Heinrichs stopped buses from picking up kids and put out a message to parents.
“People’s safety is the most important thing,” he later said. “It was a tough decision, but those people’s safety is the most important thing there is.”
When asked Thursday morning, he declined to specify the nature of the threat, saying he had been told not to do so.
After briefing Heinrichs, Hillsboro’s police chief, Jessey Hiebert, and assistant chief, Randy Brazil, provided additional patrols of the schools.
“We put our information in that they probably ought to close just as a precaution,” Brazil said. “You really don’t know.”
Brazil went to Hillsboro Middle and High School’s parking lot, and Hiebert went to Hillsboro Elementary School.
“We were just there to look for anything suspicious,” Brazil said.
He left the school grounds at 9 a.m. but planned to make several additional rounds throughout the day.
“We’re at the schools in the mornings anyway,” he said.
Brazil said Goessel’s decision to keep schools open surprised him.
“I was kind of shocked they did that,” he said, “but it’s their call.”
Goessel student Summer Hansen, whose parents came to get her Thursday, was critical of Goessel’s decision to go ahead with classes.
“All schools in Marion (County) were closed besides Goessel, so it kind of seemed that we were more of a target,” she said Monday. “Our superintendent basically said that school is where students need to be at the time. It feels like he is saying that students’ being in school is more important than students’ safety.”
Riley Hartvickson, whose parents also picked him up midway through the day Thursday, echoed her sentiments.
“I was not really worried there would actually be a shooting,” he said. “It was the fact that if there was one, our school would be the one that gets shot. Maybe it wouldn’t be a super big deal if every school stayed open. But when they all close except ours, that makes ours a target, and gives law enforcement more work to patrol.”
He also criticized the rationale for keeping school open, regardless of whether other schools closed.
“It isn’t the first time the school administration has prioritized crunching in work over our health and safety, and it obviously won’t be the last,” he said. “There may have not been any actual danger, but even the idea that there might be a chance — we are talking about people’s lives here.”
Peabody-Burns teacher Bob Kyle agreed classes should have been canceled.
“I don’t think, these days, you can overreact to anything like that,” he said. “The world is what the world is today, so you’ve got to take everything with a grain of salt.
“We weren’t really told anything. They just told us it was a threat, and that was the extent of it, that there might be a shooting, so they told us not to come to school.”
He said the lost day wasn’t too disruptive for his lesson plans, and he thought students seemed normal — not concerned — when they returned to classes.
Reporters Madeline Reida, and Phyllis Zorn and contributed to this report.