Since the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school last week, law enforcement and school officials across south Louisiana said they have responded to a steady stream of threats, many on social media, aimed at local schools.
LSU police added extra security to the university's lab school campus on Tuesday in light of a threatening “social media posting” from a former student. All schools in Evangeline Parish were closed after similar posts, allowing police to search for bombs. None were found.
After four social media threats to Evangeline Parish schools cancelled classes parish-wide Tuesday, Evangeline Parish Superintendent Darwan La…
In Thibodaux, authorities announced the arrest of a 17-year-old who is accused of planning to bring a shotgun to school to kill some students, while the sheriff in Ascension Parish, who dealt Monday with threats that haven't led to arrests, has come up with a proposal that he thinks will help law enforcement deal with this problem. Sheriff Jeff Wiley said he is advocating for a new law to require psychiatric evaluations for students who make threats in order for them to eventually return to the classroom.
“You can’t not do (the investigation) because the one that you overlook may be the one that actually plays out the threat,” Wiley said. “Virtually the vast majority are kids being kids and kids being stupid kids and kids hiding behind the internet to be tough guys.”
Wiley’s department investigated a case Monday where a former Dutchtown High School student in Texas made a threat on social media during a fight with another person Sunday night. In the end, Ascension Parish officials said they determined there was no "imminent danger" to the school, while also notifying authorities in Texas.
The local threats come within a week of the nation’s latest school shooting, a massacre that killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A former student, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was arrested by authorities after fleeing the school, and has been charged with the murders. These kind of incidents tend to inspire copy cat threats, even if the instigators don't intend to actually follow through, law enforcement officials said.
"Following events like the active shooter situation, we usually see copy cat acts that follow behind,” said State Police spokesman Senior Trooper Bryan Lee. “But it's something that we constantly monitor.”
State Police, often through the state's Analytical and Fusion Exchange Center, and at times with the help of the FBI, have been called in to assist in these investigations. Lee said in the last couple of days, State Police have received a large amount of people sharing and reporting these threats. He could not report a number as of Tuesday night.
“The one thing that we're asking people is to stop doing is stop sharing these threats on social media,” Lee said. "If for some reason they see a threat or receive a threat, they contact their local law enforcement, if they think the threat is imminent, they should call 911. Sharing these threats only add to the panic and confusion."
LSU Police announced Tuesday afternoon they were investigating a social media post from a former student at LSU Lab School, said university spokesman Ernie Ballard.
“While we believe there is no immediate threat to the Lab School, in an abundance of caution, additional security has been put in place at this time,” Ballard said.
Ballard did not offer any details about the nature of the posting, the former student who posted it and how recently that student left the school.
Wade Smith, superintendent of the lab school, sent a message out to parents Tuesday afternoon about how the school responded to the social media threat.
“The information was immediately turned over to university police, who took swift action, and they are in the midst of a full investigation,” Smith said. “While there doesn’t appear to be any immediate threat, the LSU Police have increased their presence in the school as a precaution.”
After four social media threats to Evangeline Parish schools cancelled classes across the parish Tuesday, Evangeline Parish Superintendent Darwan Lazard said officials found no bombs or dangers on campuses after a thorough search.
The Ville Platte Police Department arrested a juvenile Monday following multiple social media posts that led to the school closures, said Ville Platte Police Chief Neal Lartigue.
Lartigue said officers arrested the 15-year-old boy who officials connected to at least one of the four threats made on social media directed at area schools. The juvenile, who is accused of threatening to shoot students at Ville Platte High School, was booked on a count of terrorizing, Lartigue said.
Lartigue said officials continue to investigate if the juvenile was connected to the three other threats made in the parish.
"We're taking it very seriously, any threat," Lazard said. "We're going to take action that's appropriate."
The juvenile has not been identified. Lazard said Evangeline schools will resume classes Wednesday.
A 17-year-old Thibodaux High School student is facing charges of terrorizing and assault after other students told a school administrator that the teen made a list of students that he planned to kill and threatened people directly, according to a press release from the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office.
When contacted Monday, the teen admitted to making a list last year and later disposing of it, but he said that he still kept the list in his mind, according to the press release. The student also described a plan to bring a shotgun to his high school and kill specific peers, the sheriff's office said.
Detectives have obtained search warrants in the case and the arrest is pending. The teen, who was not named in the release, is undergoing a mental health evaluation. The student’s identity will be released once he is arrested.
Wiley said he sees a spike in threats, many between individuals but some against entire schools, after mass school shootings like the one in Parkland. While many don’t turn out to be credible, he urged caution in handling the reports.
Deputies were alerted to a teen on Tuesday in Ascension Parish who posted a photo on social media of himself with three guns. Deputies visited the teen and his parents to make sure the guns are legal and that his parents are aware that he had them, Wiley said.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, school system spokeswoman Taylor Gast said they will bring in law enforcement to investigate every threat, regardless of if it happens on or off school hours. She said that it’s “case-by-case” when it comes to figuring out which threats are credible and which ones are not. Reports of threats, typically offered by students or staff, are reviewed first by the principal, and then by school security.
While people typically see threatening posts on social media and report them, social media has also added challenges to these types of investigations, Wiley said. Snapchat posts, for example, show messages for only a 24-hour window of time and IP addresses must be subpoenaed. People can also post threats from elsewhere, like the teen in Texas.
“This isn’t easy,” Wiley said. “This is a new frontier of mitigating violence. … Some of these people don’t live in our parish. Social media has long arms.”
Now Wiley wants to pitch the state Legislature his idea that any student or adult who makes a school threat should have a psychiatric evaluation and be cleared before returning to the classroom. Wiley said he started reaching out to fellow law enforcement leaders and state legislators on Sunday.
“They’re not going to get a life sentence,” Wiley said. "They are dealt with and then they go home and at some point they go back to the school. … At a minimum there ought to be some expectation by that school room teacher ... that at least some professional has sat down with that student.”