ABERDEEN — An incident at Aberdeen High School led to a widely attended public meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the threat.
According to Superintendent Jane Ward, Aberdeen Middle School was placed on what they referred to as a “soft lockdown” on Friday, Feb. 23, due to an ongoing investigation regarding reports of a student having a weapon on campus.
The soft lockdown involved putting teachers on alert and locking all doors, including classroom and fire doors. Students could come and go as normal, but no one else could. It was announced at the meeting that all Aberdeen schools will continue the soft lockdown through the end of this week, but that the district does not believe students are under immediate threat.
“We do not believe your children are in imminent danger,” Ward said. “And I can’t guarantee that. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I don’t know what will happen next week. What I do know is that [the accused student] didn’t harm anyone when he had the chance.”
Travis Pincock, the principal of Aberdeen High School, said a student informed him that they had heard another student threaten to shoot up the school. After talking with a number of students, Pincock said he realized the threat of a school shooting was just a rumor.
However, he also talked to the student who had been accused of making the threat. The 13-year-old boy told Pincock he had had an airsoft rifle under his mattress, but that the police had already searched his house and the gun had been returned to its rightful owner, as he had stolen it.
Aberdeen Police Chief Charles Carroll said he had heard from a concerned student that the boy in question had a gun at home. Carroll said he searched the boy’s house and found nothing, but discovered later that a gun had in fact been in the boy’s possession, as it was returned to the owner a few days after Carroll had conducted his search. Carroll also said the Police Department has confirmed that the weapon was actually a five-shot revolver, rather than an airsoft gun, as the boy had initially claimed.
It is believed that the student had brought the gun to a basketball game on Feb. 13 while it was still in his possession, according to reports from students. After this was discovered, the boy was suspended from school, Ward said, and an expulsion hearing has been set.
Carroll said the investigation is still ongoing, and therefore the boy has not been arrested or charged. But Carroll said he hopes to have the case submitted to the Bingham County prosecutor by this Friday.
The entire case and investigation was explained to parents and citizens at the meeting, which was held at Aberdeen Middle School. Ward stressed that the soft lockdown had been implemented to “err on the side of caution” and that they do not think students are in danger.
“We believe that if a student was going to be harmed,” she said, “that harm would have occurred on Feb. 13 when the student had the means and opportunity to give harm.”
Many parents, however, are still concerned.
Jeremy Marley, whose children attend Aberdeen Elementary School, said he agreed with the district that the threat has been eliminated, but doesn’t believe the district handled the situation in an appropriate way.
“Any time you have safety systems in place, there are multiple facets you have to check, and I feel like in this case, they maybe checked things in the wrong order,” Marley said. “If somebody intrudes into my house, I’m going to take immediate action. Even if the intruder has come into my house and left, I’m still going to take immediate action. And I feel like that’s where this has gone by the wayside.”
One woman expressed concern that the student in question is not in custody, and questioned how to keep her daughter safe outside of school.
“Is anybody watching this kid?” another parent questioned.
However, Ward said the district maintains that if the student were to have caused harm to another, he would have done it when he had the opportunity. The Police Department said the investigation is still ongoing, and all the reports are not in yet.
“If this had been an active threat, we would have handled it differently,” Carroll said. “This is an investigation of past acts.”
This incident is just one of many school threats that have occurred in East Idaho since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.
On Wednesday, a 14-year-old Blackfoot High School student was taken into custody after allegedly making school shooting threats.
During the past few weeks, in Gooding, a middle school student was detained after reportedly making a school shooting threat; in Wendell, a threat made to an individual over social media led to a soft lockdown of all schools; Cassia and Minidoka County received multiple threats over social media; and in Twin Falls, a teenager pulled a gun on students.
But in Aberdeen, at least, the district and Police Department said they see this incident as a way to improve safety and communications within the community.
“This is a good starting point for the community to work together,” Carroll said. “I definitely think the opportunity is there.”