For the second time in November, the Paris Police Department has investigated threats against Paris High School staff and students.
Police arrested a 17-year-old male student Nov. 28 after a pencil message threatening violence and death at the school on Dec. 12 was discovered written on a stall in one of the restrooms. The message was found Nov. 27 and a strong police presence was in the high school for the two-day investigation. Henness plans to continue having officers in and out of the building into the future.
While the chief is unaware of any special significance to the Dec. 12 date mentioned in the threat, he is not taking the issue lightly.
“We’ll be out there in full force,” said Henness. “What I want the public to understand is we have officers who have children who are high school students there. We are parents, also.”
Henness and Sgt. Rich Wilson handled the Nov. 27 and Nov. 28 investigation and also investigated the earlier incident that resulted in the school removing three students from attendance. No arrests were made in the earlier incident although information was forwarded to the state’s attorney for consideration of filing charges.
The suspect arrested Nov. 28 was already serving juvenile probation sentences from both Edgar and Clark counties and is well-known to local law enforcement for prior criminal activity.
As part of the probation sentences, he was wearing an ankle bracelet for monitoring by probation and was allowed to attend school. After being transported to the Vermilion County Juvenile Detention Center, the ankle bracelet was removed and he was transferred to full custody status. He remained in custody as of Friday.
He was arrested for transmitting a threat of violence, death or bodily harm against persons at a school, which is a Class 4 felony.
“At 17, a felony can be charged as an adult which means he could face DOC,” said Henness. “These kids don’t realize you can’t yell bomb on a plane.”
The chief added the arrested youth’s guardian was cooperative throughout the process and no firearms were present in the home to make it easy for the boy to follow through on the threat, but police and school officials saw this as a serious situation.
Henness explained how the investigation unfolded. Investigators reviewed security footage of students entering and exiting the restroom and those students were subsequently asked if they saw the writing to establish a time-line for when the threat was likely scrawled on the stall.
“We were trying to get it to a five-to-10 minute time frame to confirm the suspect was in restroom then,” said Henness.
Some of the school’s English teachers were asked to review a copy of the message for anything that might point toward a suspect.
On Nov. 28, with assistance from the faculty, all students were asked to handwrite a sample sentence and Henness said within an hour it was obvious who had written the threatening message.
“Only one student had consistent spelling with the note on the wall,” said Henness.
The arrested youth is related to one of the three boys in the prior incident, but Henness said that appear to be the only connection between the two cases.
In the first incident, two boys were heard discussing guns and hunting and the nature of the conversation was deemed threatening by those who overheard it.
School administrators contacted police and the subsequent investigation did not uncover evidence, despite persistent claims to the contrary on social media, revealing a detailed plan, a kill list or anything else indicating a conspiracy to attack the school.
Henness said a date without any context was found written in a textbook but it did not match the Dec. 12 date from the most recent incident.
The third youth in the earlier case came to the attention of school administrators and law enforcement after posting support on social media. He is a friend of one the two boys and indicated he was prepared to help them fight if hassled by other students.
While the first incident was concerning, it did not rise to the level of credible threat as expressed in the note found Nov. 27.
“As law enforcement, we took this as a greater threat to the school,” said Henness. “The writing of a death threat is an indication of furtherance of action.”
The chief emphasized police approach all such situations involving the school as serious until the evidence indicates otherwise.
“During events like this, our heart rates go up because it is an issue that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible,” Henness said.