Criminal cases over school threats pile up for Metro Detroit prosecutors

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Pontiac — In the week since a shooting at Oxford High School killed four students and wounded seven people, schools in southeast Michigan have experienced a rash of social media threats followed by arrests of students found with guns, authorities said. 

More than a dozen people have been charged in Metro Detroit in connection to school threats or bringing weapons to school, and the number of cases is expected to rise, local prosecutors said Monday. The common charge after a threat is "false report or threat of terrorism," and it's a 20-year felony, which is also how people are charged after bomb threats.

Last week, Oakland County experienced a "tidal wave" of school closures in response to threats, school and law enforcement officials said.

At one point, more than 60 school districts in southeast Michigan canceled classes due to threats.

The deluge of threats prompted Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Rice to urge last week that anyone found to have threatened a school face "significant consequences" and be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

More:School threats should bring 'significant consequences,' Michigan superintendent says

"This is a grievous crime. It is not funny. It is not play. It is disrupting school communities," Rice told The Detroit News. '"This is not an unusual phenomenon. ... It is a despicable phenomenon.”

In Wayne County, Prosecutor Kym Worthy has charged seven people with school threats in the past week. The suspects range from 13 to 16 years old and hail from every region of Wayne County: city, suburbs, Downriver, western Wayne, and the Grosse Pointes. The suspects have not been named.

One student allegedly threatened a Grosse Pointe Woods middle school. 

A Grosse Pointe Woods Police scout car is parked outside the main entrance to Grosse Pointe North High School after the district asked for an extra security presence in the wake of the school shooting in Oxford and general fear of copycat threats. A student has been arrested for making a threat against Parcells Middle School in Grosse Pointe Woods.

After the student was arrested for making the threat against Parcells Middle School, Grosse Pointe schools Superintendent Jon Dean explained that "while these threats appeared to be copycat-style threats intended to cause disruption or spark a response, in speaking to the police we felt this was the best course of action."

More:Arrest made in alleged threat against Grosse Pointe Woods middle school

Three others allegedly threatened Detroit schools, including one directed at Mumford High School. Threats were also made against a Southgate middle school and Belleville High School.

A student was in possession of a weapon at a Detroit "upper academy" for fifth through eighth graders, Worthy's office said.

"There is a stranglehold on Southeastern Michigan now," Worthy said in a statement. "I urge everyone to be cautious, to be alert, and above all, immediately report what you know, hear, and see."

Monday morning, a social media threat to "shoot up" Crestwood High School in Dearborn Heights stoked students' fears that more violence could come. 

More:Threat made to 'shoot up' Crestwood High School in Dearborn Heights

Lucido: 'Zero tolerance'

Macomb County Prosecutor Pete Lucido said "four or five" school threat cases are moving through the county's juvenile system, warrants are being sought in other cases, and still other threats are being investigated and haven't yet been submitted by police to his office.

Lucido said his office would take a "zero tolerance" approach.

"We promise to prosecute every one of these threats," Lucido told The News. "That's the only way you can get the message across. There will not be a walk. There will not be leniency."

"When does it stop?" Lucido added. "When does it not become a joke anymore? What have we learned?" 

On Monday, an unidentified male student at L'Anse Creuse Middle School Central in Harrison Township was arrested after administrators reported he made statements about threatening to shoot another student through a social media app, according to  Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham's office.

The student was taken into custody at the school and taken to the county's Juvenile Justice Center. The Sheriff's office plans to ask Lucido on Tuesday to file one misdemeanor count of making an intentional threat to commit an act of violence at a school against the male student. If convicted, the student could spend up to a year in jail or be fined $1,000.

In northern Macomb County, Romeo High School went into a "precautionary lockdown" Monday afternoon, the district said in a letter, "to investigate a concern that was brought to our attention a short time ago."

School officials ended the letter stating there is no "active threat" at the school.

Last Thursday, South Lake High School in St. Clair Shores was evacuated due to a threat, police said. 

A man walks across Cavalier Drive with a child as an officer directs traffic Thursday afternoon, Dec. 2, 2021, on the east side of South Lake High School. St. Clair Shores officers and others secured the school during an investigation into a bomb threat at the high school.

More:South Lake High School in St. Clair Shores evacuated after threat

Sterling Heights police responded to at least two threats last week, one at a high school, another at a middle school. They arrested a Stevenson High School student who allegedly made that threat, a girl they describe only as a "minor."

Sterling Heights police say neither threat was credible, but that both were taken seriously.

More:Police investigate 2 Sterling Heights school threats; girl arrested

"Every incident involving threats in our schools will be taken seriously," Sterling Heights police said.

Lucido urged school officials to take threats seriously the first time.

"Bullies, threats, scare tactics, terrifying other kids: if it's in your policy manual, and your school board actually voted on this, do yourself a favor," Lucido said. "Follow through with your obligation of office."

Charges vary in Oakland

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald's office did not respond Monday to a request for information on how many school threats have been charged in the past week. But charges have been filed in at least three cases.

On Wednesday morning, a 17-year-old Southfield high school student was arrested after allegedly bringing a gun to school. 

Officers were called at about 12:30 p.m. to the Southfield Regional Academic Campus after the school's principal received a tip that the student was in possession of a weapon, according to authorities. The facility is an alternative high school located on Evergreen Road south of Nine Mile Road.

School resource officers and school administrators pulled the student from a classroom and escorted him to the office, according to authorities.

Police found a handgun in the student's coat pocket, officials said. They also said the gun had three bullets in the magazine, but no bullet in the chamber.

Southfield police Chief Elvin Barren called it a "poor decision ... to not only carry a weapon, but carry a weapon on school property," but said "there's no indication there was a copy-cat situation" or specific threats to the school.

More:Police arrest student, 17, for bringing gun into Southfield school

Threats are not always prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as the state superintendent has urged. 

A 15-year-old Lake Orion High School student was charged last week with threatening to shoot up his school if he could obtain a gun, authorities said last week.

But at his Friday court hearing, before Oakland County Probate Referee Michael Hand, the referee authorized a misdemeanor charge against the teen: threatening to commit violence with a firearm against students or employees on school property.

Misdemeanors in Michigan carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

More:Lake Orion High student charged with threatening to shoot up school

A 13-year-old boy was arrested Friday in Waterford after allegedly making a "direct threat" to his middle school. McDonald has charged him in juvenile court with "knowingly making a false report of terrorism."

He is due back in court on Dec. 20 and will remain in custody until then.

More:Boy, 13, arrested after alleged threat against Waterford middle school

The threats continued Monday when Pontiac High School entered a “soft lockdown” after being alerted of a copycat threat connected to the Oxford High shooting, according to a release from state Rep. Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac.

“I have been notified that the sheriff’s department is investigating the threat and that the school is taking all proper precautions,” Carter said. “Sheriff officers are currently patrolling the school. I urge all of our community members to remain calm while law enforcement looks into the matter.”