By Sarah Naron
PALESTINE – Following three incidents in which messages threatening violence were found on the campus of Palestine High School, an arrest has been made by officers with the Palestine Police Department.
“Beginning March 27, the Palestine Police Department has been investigating three instances of messages threatening violence,” explained Palestine PD Capt. Mark Harcrow. “On Wednesday, April 4, detectives arrested a 17-year-old high school student for one of the incidents that occurred on (Tuesday) April 3.”
The student, identified as 17-year-old Daniel Hayes, faces a charge of False Alarm or Report in a Public Secondary School, which Harcrow said is a state jail felony. Hayes was transported by law enforcement officials to the Anderson County Security Center.
According to Harcrow, the incidents which occurred Tuesday, March 27 and Thursday, April 5 remain under investigation by the Palestine PD.
In a telephone interview with The Messenger on Friday afternoon, Palestine ISD Public Relations Representative Larissa Loveless explained that the incident resulting in the arrest involved a note warning that a number of masked gunmen would be arriving at the school at approximately 9:30 a.m. Because the note was not found and delivered to school administration officials until close to noon, the school was not placed on lock down, though the Palestine PD was still notified of the threat.
“I can’t stress enough that every one of these threats that come through, we treat them as if they are so real,” Loveless said. “We never know if part of the ploy could be to desensitize us. So, we are so conscientious and do not take these threats lightly.”
In addition to any legal consequences faced by a student as a result of making threats – regardless if the threats are made only in a joking nature – Loveless said he or she would face immediate placement in the school’s alternative education program.
As The Messenger previously reported, PHS was placed on lock down Tuesday, March 27 after a note threatening violence on the campus was found.
According to Loveless, Palestine HS administration was notified of the letter at approximately 11 a.m. The campus was placed on lock down a short time later, and a thorough search of the school and student backpacks was conducted by administration officials and the Palestine Police Department.
As of 12:35 p.m., no weapons had been located anywhere on the campus. Students were moved to an advisory period and taken to lunch in small groups. Lock down was lifted shortly thereafter, and afternoon classes proceeded as usual.
In a statement made Thursday, April 5 on the PISD Facebook page, Loveless explained that another note threatening violence was discovered on the campus at approximately 8:30 a.m. Lock down resumed until 10:30 a.m. as the campus was investigated by the Palestine PD.
The campus of Elkhart High School experienced its own lock down Wednesday, March 28 after “an unsigned, handwritten note” warning, “I’m gonna shoot up this school. Check your bags before 2:00” was found taped to a water fountain in the school’s main hallway at approximately 9:42 a.m.
Following a thorough search of the campus by school officials and the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, the school was given the “all clear” at 11:05 a.m. Normal operations resumed throughout the remainder of the school day.
In a statement released following the incident, Dr. DeSpain assured that school officials “take any and all threats very seriously, whether they are written or verbal” and “will continue to be, as always, very cautious and vigilant of our surroundings.”
According to ACSO Chief Deputy Troy Black, the party found responsible would be charged with making a terroristic threat, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by fines and jail time.
“It would not be taken as a joke,” he said when asked how the situation would be dealt with in the event that a student confessed to simply kidding. “We wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, you just meant it as a joke.’ It would be sent to the D.A.’s office for consideration, and they could take it from there.”
Sarah Naron may be reached via email at email@example.com.