Omaha police have investigated dozens of threats against schools, students since Florida shooting
Omaha police have investigated 34 threats made against local schools or students since the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Speaking with reporters Thursday, Omaha Deputy Police Chief Greg Gonzalez stressed that any threats, especially those involving a weapon, will trigger a police response, and potentially result in arrests.
“If you’re going to make a threat, whether your intent was not necessarily to injure somebody or cause physical harm, they will be investigated,” Gonzalez said. “If that threat, if those comments rise to the level of probable cause for an arrest, an arrest will be made.”
Gonzalez said police are working closely with school officials to spread that message. He urged parents to talk to their kids about the serious consequences that can arise from making threats — joking or not.
He said it’s “no joking matter, especially when it involves physical harm.”
The threats have affected school districts across the city, and police investigations have resulted in at least three arrests in the last 48 hours, Gonzalez said. More could be pending.
To determine whether a threat is credible, detectives with the felony assault squad may interview the person who made the threat, search their house and talk to their parents, fellow students or other witnesses, Gonzalez said. Then they work with officials including local prosecutors, the Douglas County Attorney’s Office and the Douglas County attorney who handles juvenile cases to determine if felony or misdemeanor charges are warranted.
Some students may be referred to counseling or mental health services. Others might face arrest.
“We really want to get the message out … that every threat is going to be taken seriously and that there’s potentially an arrest that’s going to be involved,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said police can’t be entirely sure why so many threats have cropped up since the Florida shooting, which killed 17 students and school staff. It could be a copycat effect, or parents, students and teachers may be in a heightened state of awareness.
While some threats have spread across social media, others have come to the attention of police after students have overheard potentially alarming conversations and alerted a parent or school counselor.
In a letter sent home to families, Alan Bone, Westside’s director of student services, said marketing students at Westside High are working on creating “see something, hear something, say something” signs to encourage people to report any concerns.
“Intervening with troubled individuals early has the potential to prevent untold suffering,” he wrote. “We have made it easier to report such concerns— anonymously or otherwise — via both our website and social media. We hope that all families will have a conversation about the importance of speaking up when something seems not quite right.”
A number of threats — credible or not — have circulated across multiple districts, including Millard, Westside, Omaha, Elkhorn, Council Bluffs and Plattsmouth, putting parents on edge and drawing responses from law enforcement.
Classes were canceled at Plattsmouth High Wednesday after two threats were made, including one deemed credible by authorities.
Officials said they had been tipped off to a potential school attack planned by two boys, ages 15 and 16. A weapon they had planned to use in the attack was found and secured, and the boys were released to their parents.
The high school was searched by police and a police dog Wednesday night before classes resumed Thursday.
In Council Bluffs, a 12-year-old girl from Kirn Middle School was arrested Thursday morning for making threats via the Snapchat app.
A parent saw the messages, which referenced guns and killing people at school, and alerted police. Police said the girl did not have access to any weapons, but she was charged with one count of threat of terrorism, a felony.
Tuesday afternoon, a dozen police officers were on hand at dismissal at Millard South High, “out of an abundance of caution,” officials said, after two students received a threat about a fight after school.
A 17-year-old boy later was arrested on suspicion of two counts of making terroristic threats against the Millard South students.
In Lincoln, a 15-year-old student found himself in the Lancaster County Youth Services Center after bringing a BB gun that looks like a handgun to school. The teen, who was on probation, brought the gun to Southwest High School. The boy landed in the principal’s office after showing it to other students and then was taken to the youth center on suspicion of violating probation.
And last week, a 13-year-old Elkhorn middle school student was arrested on suspicion of terroristic threats in connection with two alleged threats made on social media.