By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Administrators at Lincoln High School are now permitted to talk about the unfortunate incident that occurred at Lincoln High School several weeks ago, which forced an immediate lockdown at the facility, drawing law enforcement and first responders to the scene.
Lincoln Principal Jimmy Lopez states, “It was just a typical day during a regular lunch break when we got word that a student had posted an electronic message that he was tired of being bullied, had a gun and might do something with it. Things changed in a hurry and everyone – from the staff down to the students – reacted quickly, flawlessly following our emergency protocol.”
Assistant Principal Holly Hawkins noted that as soon as the lunch break was over, students had previously been instructed to go to the auditorium where Mike Daugherty, a member of the Harrison County Board of Education, was scheduled to deliver a presentation on bullying to the student body. Students were immediately instructed to report to their third block classes and NOT to go to the auditorium.
“Many times, when threats are feverishly made, that person is looking for an audience,” Mrs. Hawkins stated. “And if this student was reacting to bullying incidents, where better to gain that attention than to have an auditorium full of his fellow students – all there to hear about the topic of bullying! This possibility drew more concern on the part of the administrators, so it called for a very quick response.”
Lopez added, “As it turned out, there was actually no bullying incident involved; it was just a sick joke that created a lot of momentary chaos. Nevertheless, it was a very serious situation and one that could not be ignored so the school was placed on an immediate lockdown … the police were notified … the Board of Education was contacted … and our school secretaries made calls to the middle school, which also was placed on lockdown because the two schools are connected.”
Lopez says that four students were involved and of the four, one was indirectly involved. One student posted things anonymously on a website, while two others were to make sure the message was disseminated to cause panic, he said.
“Our school safety committee has a practiced procedure to follow in the event of any type of emergency situation, and our staff is very aware that whenever we do code drills, they are to react as if it is a real situation,” Lopez continued. “They carried it out impeccably – blinds were pulled; lights were turned out; doors were locked from the inside. They did a fantastic job and reacted quickly. Although you always hope that you will never have to respond to a real situation like that, it was gratifying that we were so well prepared.”
Lopez said that allegedly a bomb threat was made from one of the main individuals a couple of weeks before this recent incident, but it went undetected and no one saw it on this obscure site.
“There is a website where people often post things anonymously and don’t have to register for it. They are typically inappropriate things. This time, however, the message was seen by staff, which was part of the conspiracy,” he stated.
Mr. Lopez praised the rapid response of local law enforcement. “Almost immediately, the Shinnston Police, our school PRO officer, the Sheriff’s Department, State Police, FBI, and Task Force all converged on our school campus,” he said, “and as soon as the command center was set up, we began communicating phone messages to both high school and middle school parents to ease their concerns. Every locker, every classroom, individual students – even our adult staff – was searched, and no weapon was found. We were, of course, thankful for that because we are responsible for each of our students and want to provide them with a safe environment, free of violence, where they can learn. Our first concern was to ensure that everyone was out of harm’s way.”
Lopez admits that during his many years in education, he has never faced a situation of this magnitude. “We are grateful for the outstanding job done by all of the first responders, and I can’t say enough about the reaction of our students and staff.
The school has since received a lot of positive feedback from parents and family members, complimenting their preparedness and swift response to what could have turned out much differently, Lopez said.
The four male students involved are all 16 years of age, and because they are minors, names are being withheld. However, Lopez noted that the three students directly involved have now all signed depositions agreeing to expulsion from school for 365 calendar days. The fourth student has been suspended for 10 days and will attend the Alternative Learning Center the rest of the year following that suspension; he will be able to return to Lincoln High School at the beginning of the next school year, however.
One student is being prosecuted for a terroristic threat; the other two for conspiracy in the incident, Lopez reported. These are felonious charges, he said.
“By signing off on the expulsion, the students waive their right to a hearing,” Mr. Lopez concluded. “However, the investigation is still ongoing and being led by Lincoln’s PRO officer. If he finds probable cause that others were involved too, they will be prosecuted as well. This was a very hard lesson to learn and serious consequences to pay, but we cannot tolerate incidents like this one that caused such extreme intervention to go unpunished. Fortunately, none of our students were physically harmed and we’re thankful for that.”
Lopez says that the Harrison County Board of Education’s next meeting will be held on November 17th at Lincoln High School. Members of the Board still have to agree to accept expulsion as the punishment for the perpetrators.