Parents of Monroe High School students had mixed feelings about the response to a recent alleged school shooting threat. Some sang praises for how the situation was handled, while others had hoped for more details.
It started with a sketch on a toilet paper dispenser found by students in a bathroom stall that read, “April 3 @ 1st lunch =” followed by dead or running stick figures oriented away from a gun. The Monroe Police Department’s school resource officer was called to MHS just before noon Thursday, March 30, wrote police department administrative director Debbie Willis in an email.
“Our officer went to the school and found that the message had already been removed from the stall,” she wrote. “The officer contacted a student who was reported to have taken a picture of it and had shown it to another student. The student admitted to taking and showing the picture but no longer had the picture on his cell phone.”
The photo wound up on social media that weekend, prompting questions from parents, Willis wrote. Officers were staffed at the school the following Monday, April 3, she wrote.
MHS principal John Lombardi sent letters to parents Friday, March 30, the day after the sketch was reported, and Monday, April 3. Over the weekend, many parents questioned whether to send their kids to school.
Monroe City Councilmember Jason Gamble said during the April 2 council meeting that he was one parent who sent his daughter to class the day before. He said he heard questions from residents who wondered if it would be safe for their student to be at the school. He said he could say “with the utmost comfort” he was confident local administrators and law enforcement would not put students in a dangerous situation.
“It is nice knowing that because of how involved that we are, and I hope this isn’t a sign of more stupid pictures in a bathroom stall to come down the road,” Gamble said. “I don’t hold ill will or anything to any parent that held their student home, because those are really real things in this world now, and those are individual decisions parents have to make, but I trust our administration, and I trust our police department, and I’ll be danged if any threat — foreign or domestic — is going to make me or my kids live in fear.”
In his second letter to parents, Lombardi stated nothing out of the ordinary occurred at MHS the day the potential shooting was allegedly set for, aside from “a high absentee rate.” He explained Monroe School District superintendent Dr. Fredrika Smith and Monroe School Board member Jason Hutchinson were on campus throughout the day, in addition to added law enforcement.
“As the Principal of Monroe High School and a longtime administrator, I also see the need to only share necessary details so that we don’t inadvertently aid someone who may want to come onto our campus to harm others or commit criminal acts,” he wrote in the letter. “If we were to give out the details of the security measures we have in place, we may be giving information to the perpetrator so they can better plan and execute their intent. Additionally, information contained in threats can sometimes be intentionally misleading in an attempt to divert our attention away from when (and) where the incident may really be occurring.”
In his first email he told parents that students had been aware of the sketch for about one week before it was reported to school staff. He conveyed concerns that the information wasn’t shared sooner, and asked parents to speak with their children about the “importance of coming forward immediately whenever they hear or see anything that raises concern.”
Parent Miriam Hollins said she felt the principal’s emails were lacking in the level of detail she would have hoped for. She said her son, who is a sophomore and honor student at MHS, was uncharacteristically opposed to attending class Monday, April 3.
Hollins said she wanted to know why school district administrators believed the message in the restroom was not enough to close the school and more about what staff is doing to keep kids safe.
“I feel like they should maybe reflect on why attendance was so low,” she said. “Probably because the only communication we had is that picture, and that email they sent saying it was under control.”
The shooting threat came less than one week after another perceived safety threat was addressed. School district spokeswoman Erin Zacharda said the two were unrelated.
School district staff called Monroe police to the school on Monday, March 27, to help staff and administrators address a suspicious post on social media of a picture that portrayed a potential threat to the school, according to a school district news release. A student involved in the investigation “was not as cooperative as we had hoped,” and a modified lockdown was put in a place for a few minutes, according to the release.
“The Monroe Police Department is continuing to investigate the situation, but so far have determined there are no further threats related to the incident at this time,” according to the release. “It has also been determined that there was no intention to cause harm or to bring weapons onto our campus today.”
Monroe high school sophomore McKayla Monahan wrote in an email that she was afraid to be at school Monday, April 3, and saw some of her teachers were fearful as well. She wrote that she thought staff and students had been left in the dark.
“I never heard about who was involved, which was one the things that disturbed me due to the fact that the school is known to lack in notifying the student body about matters such as this,” she wrote.
Monahan heard about the threat from posts friends put up on their Snapchat and Facebook accounts. Both Monahan and Hollins stated these weren’t the first alleged threats that targeted the school this year.
Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas announced during the April 4 Monroe City Council meeting that he would meet with Monroe Police Chief Quenzer, interim city administrator David Moseley, school board president Darcy Cheesman and the superintendent to discuss what went well and what could have been done better to get information out.
Zacharda said those discussions have been ongoing since the incident. She said the school district takes “feedback from parents very seriously, and will always discuss that when we are debriefing.”
At this point it is unknown if the restroom drawing was a legitimate threat, Zacharda said. No more information has been found, but the school district will release anything that turns up in an investigation, she said.