2018-02-21 / Front Page

School violence threats result in closures, arrest of 9-year-old boy


A school shooting last week in Florida has left parents and students in Letcher County jittery, and has caused schools to close all over the nation as school officials and police deal with real and imagined threats.

Letcher County Central High School was closed two days for reports of threatening behavior, and other schools in the district were not immune to the panic. Lockdowns have occurred in schools as perceived threats emerged, and two students here — one only 9 years old — were arrested. Kentucky law does not allow prosecution of children under 10 years old.

Letcher County School Superintendent

Tony Sergent said he asked for a large police presence at schools this morning (February 21) to make parents and students feel safe, and attempt to let the rumor mill slow down.

“That’s the best I know to do,” he said.

The first closure was last Friday after students reported a video on the Facebook page of a classmate who was rapping about school violence and bullying, and saying he would “bust a cap,” meaning shoot someone, if they bullied him. Capt. Barry Engle with the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department said officials found out about that complaint about 4:30 p.m. last Thursday and called the boy’s grandparents, with whom the boy lives. A grandparent assured authorities they would keep the boy home from school, but Engle wasn’t able to talk to him until the next morning. He said the boy had only been disciplined at school once for being in a fight, and none of the words in the rap advocated school violence or made direct threats.

“He was real respectful to me,” Engle said. “I think it was blown out of proportion based on his Tupac Shakur routine.”

(Shakur, a rapper whose songs revolved around violence and gang life, died in a drive-by shooting in 1996.)

No charges were filed against that child, but the school was closed on Friday anyway because of rumors related to the same case that began circulating on Facebook late that Thursday night.

School was in session Monday, but then another high school student was charged Monday afternoon, and taken to the juvenile detention center at Jackson for allegedly threatening another student on February 8, nearly a week before the Florida shooting that killed 17 students and school staff. Internet rumors of that arrest reached parents Monday night, who began calling the Kentucky State Police post early Tuesday morning reporting a threat, Letcher County Superintendent of Schools Tony Sergent said.

Still, police were required Tuesday to arrest a 9-year-old boy on a felony charge for allegedly threatening to shoot a classmate.

Sergent said he was aware the student couldn’t be prosecuted, but officials are “trying to emphasize the seriousness of it.”

Sergent said police called him about 7 a.m. Tuesday, prompting the closure of the high school again, based on another threat that had already been dealt with.

“It was almost 7 o’clock, kids were already on the buses, and I didn’t have time to investigate whether it was related to the one we already dealt with,” Sergent said.

For safety’s sake, Sergent canceled school again, only to find out later that the rumors and the phone calls were about the arrest that was made the day before.

“This social media stuff is awful,” he said. “By the time we chase all the nonsense, we can’t deal with what’s really important.”

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