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Politics & Government

Two LUHS Students Face Criminal Charges, Expulsion Hearings Over Alleged Threats

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Wikimedia Commons GP Reimer
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MINOCQUA – Two students at Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua are facing possible criminal charges as well as expulsion hearings for their alleged roles in making separate terror threats at the school.

Minocqua Police Chief Dave Jaeger says one female juvenile was referred to the Oneida County Social Services Thursday, Feb. 22nd for writing threatening messages linked to a recent mass shooting on a women’s restroom stall on Thursday, Feb. 15th. A juvenile male was arrested Friday, Feb. 16th for posting a threatening photograph on the social media app Snapchat, also on Feb. 15th. That image was of a South Carolina teen pictured with a rifle and the words “Round 2 of Florida tomorrow” imposed upon it. The LUHS student apparently altered it further to include the LUHS logo. The Wausau office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) responded to the Snapchat incident. “This is terrorism in the local area and we will not tolerate it at LUHS,” said Principal/Administrator Jim Bouché.

Both incidents, which Jaeger said were unrelated, came after the mass shooting Feb. 14th at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and staff lost their lives to a gunman. About 500 of the 700 students at Lakeland did not attend classes Friday. Bouché says they will be treated as excused absences in light of the threatening messages left the day before. Bouché says the two students (believed to be either 15 or 16) are no longer in the high school and will face expulsion hearings, in addition to court proceedings. Jaeger, in a press release, outlined the respective juvenile referrals with both centered on making a terrorist threat.

The male – “intimidation, disorderly conduct, unlawful computer message use—threat injury/harm to another or property of another with expectation message will be receiving, and obstructing/resisting an officer—giving false information or non-physical resistance.”

The female – “intimidation, disorderly conduct, criminal damage to property, and obstructing/resisting an officer–--giving false information or non-physical resistance.”

Bouché said a student found a message written on one of the stalls in the women’s restroom on the east side of the theater sometime after 10 a.m. Thursday. She immediately reported it to school officials. About 2 p.m. that afternoon, a staff member found a similar message, again written on a stall in the same women’s bathroom. Bouché, a former English teacher, said the messages, although not written in script, showed a distinctive style that left clues to the author. Later that night, students reported receiving a Snapchat photograph showing a young male with a rifle, and LUHS superimposed upon the image.

Police and school administration staff began parallel investigations. In the women’s bathroom graffiti incident, Jaeger reviewed tapes from security camera in the hallway near the bathroom, before and after the discoveries, to narrow down possible perpetrators. Bouché said he and the police received suggestions from students as to who might have written the threats.

In the matter of the Snapchat image, Bouché said they determined it was a doctored image and not of a local individual. The student apparently took it off the New York Post newspaper website, altered it with the LUHS logo, and sent it out. In that latter incident, the Wausau F.B.I. office responded “very quickly,” Bouché said. Exercising what Bouché said was “due diligence on safety and security,” authorities canceled the Polar Daze pep rally Friday as well as the Polar Daze dance on Saturday. Fewer than 200 students attended classes Friday, Bouché said. There was extra police stationed on both the north (main) entrance and south entrance that day. Bouché said the police department’s K-9 was present, but not needed.

The north entrance has secure double doors, controlled by a staff member behind bulletproof glass. Once school starts, visitors must show identification and state a reason for being there before being allowed into the main building. The south entrance doors are locked during school hours. The school also pays for a Minocqua police officer, known as a  school resource officer, who is armed and present during school hours. The administration team held an emergency meeting once school was over Thursday to update the staff, many of whom were not aware of what had transpired. A “robo call” was sent to parents and others at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, detailing the day’s events. Then at about 6:30 p.m. came word of the Snapchat image being circulated. Within 45 minutes, aided by students, authorities had about a half dozen possible suspects.

On Friday, they narrowed it down to the one individual based, in part, on the “digital footprint” of the message. An arrest was made and another robo call went out to the community, letting them know of the arrest. “Digital footprints are left behind and those footprints are going to be found,” Bouché said. “We thank all the people who gave information about the Snapchat picture.” The administrator said students were encouraged to use the offices of pupil services and the school psychologist on Friday if they felt a need to talk with someone about the threats.

There was no school on Monday due to a scheduled in-service for teachers for the high school and elementary schools. Another robo call went out on Monday reminding students and parents that there would be a full day of school on Tuesday, albeit with a late start. Bouché, who had scheduled meetings in Madison with the Department of Public Instruction and University of Wisconsin officials, kept in touch with developments while gone Tuesday and Wednesday. He said he appreciated the information from staff and students during the investigations, as well as the law enforcement work. Bouché also made a 10-minute video explaining what transpired over those few days. It’s posted on the school’s website: www.luhs.k12.wi.us.

The administrator said the last time a major threat to safety was made at the school was 7-8 years ago when someone alleged a bomb was set to go off there. There is a national discussion on what can be done to prevent future mass shootings, particularly at schools. Bouché said he’s not a fan of adding metal detectors at the school – “it’s like walking into a prison” -- but “whatever we need to make it safe, we’re going to look at it.” He hasn’t made up his mind on a proposal in some circles of having teachers carrying concealed weapons. In the meantime, he wants students to know it’s a safe environment and welcoming school at LUHS.

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