Copiah, Lawrence county schools respond to threats

Published 12:22 pm Thursday, February 22, 2018

Area school districts and law enforcement officials are continuing investigations into recent threats of violence.

An undisclosed situation Tuesday at the Wesson Attendance Center prompted a response from the Wesson Police Department, as well as three other agencies, police said.

According to officer Tim Stevens, the department investigated the situation and a juvenile was referred to Copiah County Youth Court in Hazlehurst. The department would not release any additional information.

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The Wesson Police Department posted on Facebook that it responded to a complaint, but offered no additional information.

Last week, a similar situation unfolded at the Topeka Tilton Attendance Center in Monticello.

Lawrence County Assistant Superintendent Twila Oaks said the incident developed over the course of several days and came to a head at the end of the week. The Topeka School administration subsequently contacted law enforcement.

Local agencies have offered few details on the situation, because it is still under investigation.

According to a recent update by the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department, three juveniles are being held in custody in connection to the Topeka incident. They also said there have been no reports of students bringing weapons to school, and no weapons have been found on any Lawrence County school property.

The sheriff’s department is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, other agencies and county residents to investigate all related, incoming reports.

“I am encouraging all parents, grandparents and guardians to talk to the children of our county and let them know that even though they meant it as a joke when it was said or put on social media, all threats are taken very seriously and will be investigated,” Undersheriff Brian Rayborn said in a statement released via the sheriff’s department’s Facebook page.

The situation at Topeka came on the heels of a Feb. 15 bomb threat at the Lawrence County High School.

In that case, a caller threatened to blow up the school, but never indicated that an explosive devise was on school property.

A bomb detection dog was utilized as a safety precaution, and 10 local and state agencies responded to the incident. No bomb was found, and, according to the Lawrence County School District, the high school was evacuated in a timely manner.

“I can’t say enough good about our local law enforcement,” Oaks said.

Across the state, school districts have dealt with several threats of violence recently.

Two north Mississippi high school students were arrested on charges that they threatened violence on social media.
DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco told local media the juveniles were arrested Saturday after school and law enforcement officials became aware Friday of material posted on Snapchat.

The 16-year-old boys could face disciplinary and legal consequences regarding threats made against students at Olive Branch’s Center Hill High School.

DeSoto school officials describe the incident as cyberstalking. Parents said one image singled out alleged bullies, while a second image showed a rifle and discussed racial violence by white people against black people.

At least 11 South Mississippi schools have confirmed investigating threats of violence while a heightened sense of awareness prompted concerns of a possible shooting at a middle school.

Officials at North Gulfport Middle School ordered a lockdown recently after Gulfport Police Dispatch received a call reporting the sound of gunshots in the area.

“Police searched the entire campus and gave the all-clear,” said Trang Pham-Bui, Harrison County School District spokeswoman. “Everyone is safe.”

In Meridian, a rumor on social media caused many to worry about a potential school shooting at Northeast Lauderdale High School but law enforcement said they found no credible information related to the threat.

“We thought it might be a hoax but we’re not going to take a chance. We treated it like the real thing,” Lauderdale County School Superintendent Randy Hodges said.

Tim Moore, the Northeast principal, said that the school started the morning with a “heightened awareness,” but never went into a formal lockdown.

“We implemented our plan of action… just to be proactive,” Moore said. “We want parents and students to know we have their best interests at heart.”

“We take threats seriously but at this point there has been no credible threat,” Ward Calhoun, the chief deputy of the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department, said.

Calhoun said that no original post on Facebook could be found, just hearsay. Additionally, part of the rumor appeared to surface from Petal and a vague photo on Snapchat only identified ‘Northeast’ as threatened, not specifying any particular ‘Northeast’ school.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.