Sheriff’s office responds to another school threat this week
Interim superintendent: ‘We plan to look in the mirror to see what could have been done differently’
By John McCaslin and Patty Hardee
Rappahannock News staff
Under tight security and a blanket of privacy, a 17-year-old former student of Rappahannock County High School — charged with conspiracy to possess a firearm on high school property on the anniversary of the Columbine massacre — appeared in Rappahannock County Juvenile Court last Thursday and had his hearing date set for May 25.
Meanwhile, as if the school community wasn’t already on edge, the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office responded to yet another perceived threat at the high school at approximately 2 p.m. Tuesday after “the office of the high school was informed that a young student made a comment about blowing up the school.”
That according to interim School Superintendent Gary Blair, who added that he was at the high school to witness the ensuing investigation.
“The school resource officer was at the high school and the sheriff’s office responded within two minutes,” Blair explained. “The sheriff’s office deemed that this was in no way related to any of the recent incidents.”
Blair said it was eventually “determined that there was no actual threat to do harm to anyone at the school.” As for the status of the student behind the latest threat, Blair said he “cannot discuss the discipline of a student with anyone but the parents.”
But Blair did tell the Rappahannock News Wednesday that there was a “silver lining” to the latest incident, and that is “when you work with the students you find you get more information out of them,” suggesting it was once again one or more students at the high school who sounded the threat alarm.
Meanwhile, it’s been confirmed that the student suspect who remains behind bars for threatening to shoot and blow up the high school on the Columbine anniversary will be prosecuted by Rappahannock County Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff. Court appearances involving juveniles are normally closed to the public, and given the secrecy surrounding this incident that will likely remain the case.
During an initial detention hearing in Fauquier district court, the 17-year-old, who has not been identified due to his age, was appointed counsel from the Virginia Public Defenders Office. The public defender’s identity also “cannot be disclosed,” said a spokeswoman in the office.
According to a court affidavit obtained by the Rappahannock News, both the suspect, who remains in custody until his court date, and an alleged 16-year-old accomplice, also a student at the high school, reportedly counted down the days to “make Columbine look like a joke” and “blow this place to pieces.”
It was a fellow student of the two student suspects who sounded the alarm to authorities, according to the affidavit, possibly averting a major tragedy.
The whereabouts of the 16-year-old cannot be determined, but school officials say he is no longer attending the high school. The sheriff’s office has declined to comment on the additional suspect, or even if they know of his whereabouts. It is rumored that the 16-year-old has “gone missing,” but that information cannot be substantiated.
Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Compton will only say that the investigation is “ongoing.”
Meanwhile, at Monday afternoon’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Blair was asked by Supervisor John Lesinski for any update on security at the school. Blair replied that preventative measures have been beefed up and will continue to tighten.
He then announced that plans were underway to hold a meeting for concerned parents in the high school auditorium — held last night (Wednesday, May 3), as it happened, after this newspaper went to press. Blair said while it was “short notice I hope people can come.”
As Blair has acknowledged: “If we don’t communicate, people make things up.”
Parents have been complaining since last month about a lack of information coming from the school — which it turn blames law enforcement — surrounding any continued threat to their children. In the meantime some parents have called for metal detectors in the schools, others for people to remain calm; some blame the schools for lax security, others the parents for lax discipline.
But a main theme is the desire for more dialogue — beyond letters sent home and robocalls. It has similarly been extremely difficult for this newspaper to obtain basic information about the ongoing case, more so from law enforcement.
Last Friday, it so happened that Blair was having breakfast at the Sperryville Trading Cafe and Market at the same time the Rappahannock News was holding its monthly Fourth Estate Friday meeting with readers. Given the discussion centered around the high school, Blair was invited to introduce himself and explain the current situation at the school.
“This event has not been a distraction to the kids, as far as I can see,” he began, adding that the attendance rate since the incident first unfolded — when some parents kept their children home for days on end — was now back at 95 to 97 percent.
When asked if school staff had been trained on how to handle a disturbing incident like this, including counseling children, Blair explained that a school counselor had met with each class, but that among his next steps was to conduct ongoing training.
“I have some things coming,” he said, “but I want to talk to the staff first.”
“The timing is important,” Blair continued. “When you go through training, it’s not really real for someone without the context.”
Once things have settled down, he said he plans to explore lessons learned.
“Did we do everything perfectly?” Blair asked. “We plan to look in the mirror to see what could have been done differently.”
And then this admission: “You’re never the same after this.”