The superintendent of Northview Public Schools said he was baffled Tuesday as dozens of students left early from the high school after word of a potential threat began to circulate.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Superintendent Dr. Scott Korpak told 24 Hour News 8 that a rumor about a nonexistent threat had caused the uproar. When pressed, Korpak insisted that he had no idea where the concern could be coming from.
Parents interviewed by 24 Hour News 8 said they were given similar explanations, though their students seemed convinced that there was a legitimate concern.
Shortly after speaking with Korpak, 24 Hour News 8 contacted the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. Officials there said they were aware of what the fuss was all about. Sgt. Joel Roon said the sheriff’s department conducted two separate criminal investigations into threats made by students at the school over the last two weeks.
In an incident reported Feb. 22, the sheriff’s department said, a student threatened to shoot another student, prompting the school to contact police. Roon said word spreading about that incident appeared to be behind the concerns at the school Tuesday.
In another unrelated incident, Roon said an eighth-grade student had threatened Monday to burn down the school, though he said it didn’t seem as though that incident was related to the students walking out Tuesday.
Roon said in both incidents, sheriff’s officials found no reason to believe the student in question was actually planning to do harm. Police said that investigators searched the home of the student who made the threat in February and found that the high school student had no access to a gun.
“We don’t feel that there was a credible threat there,” Roon said.
Parents didn’t have these details and dozens decided they didn’t want to take any chances.
“I said, well, I’m not going to look back at this while I’m burying some kid because it was a viable threat,” Liz Stocker, whose granddaughter is a freshman at Northview, explained.
Stocker said her granddaughter received a recorded message over the phone with vague information about the ‘rumored’ threat.
The parents 24 Hour News 8 interviewed said they believed a lack of information fueled what parent Saraya Rice called ‘pandemonium’ at the school Tuesday.
“When you have that many parents and you have that many kids going home, that many parents that are concerned, (school administrators) do owe us answers,” Rice told 24 Hour News 8.
The recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed the lives of 17 students has prompted a heightened level of concern.
“You can’t just live on a hope and a dream and go, ‘Yeah, no, we’re all good,’ because they thought they were, too,” Stocker said.
The Florida incident also seems to have prompted an increase in threats, Kent County officials said. Late last month, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker made a statement to warn the public about the criminal ramifications that follow these threats. He said his office had noticed a spike in threat cases that he called “unprecedented.”
On Monday, Hastings Public Schools closed because of concern about a threat.
Students who were at Northview Tuesday morning said the fear was palpable.
“Someone was actually shaking as they were walking out. It was not a normal school day at all,” Rice’s daughter Bobbi Foster told 24 Hour News 8.
“I shouldn’t feel the need to worry about, is an incident going to happen?” Stocker’s granddaughter Jennifer Geelhoed said.
Despite the response, school leaders downplayed what happened. Korpak declined to sit for an on-camera interview about the matter. He said he worried that answering questions from 24 Hour News 8 on camera might add to the fear surrounding what happened.
The district issued a written statement and sent a letter home to parents with similar sentiment.
“We can’t force every incident,” the letter said. “However we can be proactive about student safety by continually assessing, drilling and improving our safety protocols. But we also need your help. We must all work together…”
The letter stated that school officials became aware of the “rumored threat” Tuesday morning, though sheriff’s officials said it was a high school administrator that reported the Feb. 22 incident to police.
Both threat cases were forwarded to Kent County prosecutors for review. In the Feb. 22 case, prosecutors decided not to file charges. Sheriff’s officials said that decision came after the family of the student who received the threat decided not to pursue the case.