Detroit area police probe school threat surge

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Several Metro Detroit schools were closed March 22, 2018, because of threats, most of which were made online.

Local police departments are scrambling to respond to a flurry of school threats, most made on social media, in the wake of last month’s mass shooting inside a Parkland, Florida, high school.

Speaking at a mid-afternoon news conference Thursday in Detroit, police Chief James Craig said officers had investigated 40 threats since the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting — 23 in the previous 24 hours — resulting in the arrests of four people, with more on the way.

“Students need to understand that there are consequences for this type of behavior,” Craig said at the press conference, surrounded by officials from several other police departments that are also dealing with a plethora of recent school threats.

Craig said his department will seek charges of terrorism, threatening terrorism or making a false report.

“In the cases I’m intimately familiar with, the response (from those making the threats) is ‘I didn’t mean it.’ Well, you should have thought about that before pressing the send button.”

School threats have ramped up in other Metro Detroit communities in recent days.

On Friday, Oak Park Public Schools are closed for a second straight day “for safety and security reasons” after threats were received. Hazel Park Schools also are closed Friday because of a threat, the superintendent said.

The Frederick Douglass International Academy, which also is in Oak Park, also is closed Friday for a second straight day in response to the threats.

Fitzgerald Public Schools in Macomb County was closed Thursday “due to a threat,” per the district’s Facebook page.

In Wayne County, Redford Union High School was closed Thursday because of threats. The closure came a day after the campus was on “soft lockdown” because of a different threat.

Hamtramck High School, Horizon High School and Hamtramck High Community Center also were closed Thursday, after the district received a phone call Wednesday afternoon from someone who claimed “tomorrow, we will shoot up the school.”

In an update Thursday on its Facebook page, Hamtramck school officials notified parents that the person who allegedly made the threatening phone call is a student at Hamtramck High who simply didn’t want to go to school. Classes are resuming Friday, they said.

In Oakland County, in Farmington Public Schools, the Farmington Community School-Early Childhood program and Farmington Central High School were closed Thursday.

The Farmington Hills Police Department arrested Myreon Daquan Davis, 17, of Redford Township, saying he posted a threatening message on social media at the end of the school day on Wednesday. Police said Davis, a student at Farmington Central High School, was arrested Wednesday night. Police said no weapons were found in his family’s home.

Davis was arraigned in 47th District Court on a charge of false report or threat of terrorism. Magistrate Michael Sawicky set bond at $50,000, with 10 percent payable. A preliminary exam was set for 9 a.m. April 6.

A number of other students in Michigan have been charged with making threats.

A 15-year-old boy who allegedly made a threat against Paw Paw High School was charged with crimes including possessing sawed-off shotguns, possession with intent to use Molotov cocktails and making a terrorist threat.

“This isn’t just a Metro Detroit issue; it’s a national issue,” Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw said. “Everyone has access to (a cellphone) now, and parents are reluctant to go into their kids’ phones.

“When parents don’t monitor what their kids do on social media, they can make a stupid decision that can cost them 20 years of their lives,” Shaw said. “That’s no prom, no Mr. or Mrs. Right, no kids — that’s prison. This is not a joke. You should know your kids’ passwords. Monitor what they’re doing.”

On Twitter, Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District, also urged parents in the district to “actively review the social media use of children,” adding that “recent threats are teenage pranks.”

In a follow-up tweet, Vitti wrote that “the FBI and police are actively investigating the threats. Unfortunately, students will be prosecuted.”

Detroit police have arrested two 14-year-olds and a 16- and 17-year old for making threats against schools, Craig said.

“More are coming,” he said, adding that officers confiscated a Taser, brass knuckles and knives from the students. He said in some cases, parents were encouraging their kids to bring the weapons to school.

“If the parents are covering it up, or if they’re aware of this activity on social media (and don’t report it), they run the risk of being charged,” the chief said.

Craig said responding to the threats means taking officers away from their normal duties.