Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut last week, Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said that the most important thing that someone can do if they suspect someone might be a threat to students or schools is to report it. Police said Friday that's exactly what one out-of-state youth did when he heard an Anchorage student talking about plans to shoot up East High School during an online video gaming session.
According to a statement from Anita Shell, spokesperson for the Anchorage Police Department, a 15-year-old male student of the Anchorage School District was playing video games online with two out-of-state partners when he made the alleged threat. One of the other players alerted his parents, who in turn called the school principal and relayed the threat.
An automated call went out to parents of East High students on Friday from Principal Mike Graham (MP3 hosted by KTUU), who emphasized the importance of safety for students and staff at the school, and relayed a story similar to the one provided by the APD.
"An East High student had told another student about potential plans for a shooting at our school," Graham said in the message. "Although no specific threat was made, the student who heard the information told a trusted adult."
APD and school district officials launched a joint investigation into the alleged threat, which came less than one week after 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and killed 26 people -- including 20 children -- before killing himself. The incident shocked the nation and raised concerns about school security nationwide.
"Both (school) staff and police took the threat seriously and began looking into the matter," Shell said. "School Resource Officers launched an investigation which resulted in the arrest of the student, charging him with Terroristic Threatening. He was lodged at McLaughlin Youth Center."
Shell said that the student has also been suspended, "pending expulsion from the school board."
As a minor, the student's name was not released. Police said their investigation continues.
ASD spokeswoman Heidi Embley said that police and school officials take every threat seriously, regardless of where it's delivered, then evaluate the severity of the threat.
"It’s part of the police investigation," Embley said. "They determine how credible each threat is."
Each Anchorage high school has two School Resource Officers stationed in it, who also respond to any nearby middle or elementary schools. The National Rifle Association on Friday recommended, in the wake of the Newtown shooting, that an armed guard be stationed at every school in the country.
The Anchorage School District posted a statement Friday that would seem to address the NRA's suggestion, stating that the district is "examining a variety of different ideas," and looking for input from parents and other stakeholders in the community on how best to improve school safety.
"However, we are not prepared to comment on each new idea advanced in the media," the statement read. "The safety of both students and staff at every school continues to be our number one priority."
Embley said that the district has been flooded with calls from parents both concerned about and offering advice on school safety. And the NRA press conference only added to the mix.
"We've gotten a handful of comments and suggestions from people in the community," Embley said following Friday's announcement from the NRA. "We’re reviewing what security procedures we have in place right now and seeing how we can improve on them."
Shell did not return calls for further comment Friday.
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com