Gulf Breeze High School parents want threats of violence taken more seriously

Parents of students at Gulf Breeze High School say they are not comfortable with Santa Rosa County School District assurances that one student's reported threats to commit violence against classmates were as easily resolved as administrators are telling them they were.

One parent who spoke to the Pensacola News Journal described what he'd been hearing from students as extremely disturbing, adding that the information families are receiving from the school has been vague. He said he kept his child out of school Friday as a precautionary measure.

The names of parents who reached out to the newspaper were withheld to protect students from retaliation.

On Thursday the School District circulated via phone message a notification that said on Wednesday Gulf Breeze High School administrators had been made aware of a Snapchat "message of a violent nature" circulating among students.

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"At no point was there mention of a threat against the school or school shooting," said the message, which School District spokeswoman Tonya Shepherd shared with the News Journal Friday as part of a statement released by the district.

Shepherd's statement said that school and district administrators, along with the Gulf Breeze Police officer employed as the High School resource officer "quickly and thoroughly" conducted an investigation in response to the Snapchat message. It found "the allegation mentioned" was unfounded and no threat to the school or students existed.

It said nothing about whether the student had been removed from the school or whether counseling was being provided to impacted students, including the one implicated in making threats. Asked for more information, Shepherd declined, citing the School District's required compliance to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that protects confidential student information and records.

Gulf Breeze High School Principal Daniel Brothers did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Gulf Breeze Police Chief Rick Hawthorne said the school had chosen to handle follow up to the investigation internally and counselors had set up interviews with everyone involved in the "message of a violent nature" investigation.

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One student's compiled "report," which was later shared with the News Journal, goes into excruciating detail about statements made by the student alleged to have been the one inspiring fear among classmates.

In what appeared to be a document that the student prepared for review by a School District authority figure or figures, the report described the student seen as a possible threat to himself and others as a "very aggressive, rash person who often loses control of himself when he gets angry."

The report said the student in question had discussed harming himself and "has had very in depth discussions with me before about killing other people ... there are several girls in my class that he wants to shoot, stab or cut into pieces."

The report also described allusions to sexual assault of female students and said that at least two girls had obtained "no contact orders" against the person he was writing about.

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Hawthorne, however, said investigators found all the talk going around the High School was nothing more than rampant rumors.

"Kids heard something, started a rumor. It gets passed around, one word gets added and by the time you get to the last person it's all blown up out of proportion," Hawthorne said. "We take each one of these seriously, but a lot of times it's not what it seemed. You can say anything and people can twist it and turn it until it's something else. You have to take into account the manner it was said, how it was said."

Hawthorne said investigators were ultimately able to determine that "one of the students they said had been threatened said they were never threatened."

Shepherd's statement said that on Thursday, the day following the investigation into the Snapchat message, officials became aware of a TikTok video being shared on Instagram "in reference to the situation that occurred on Jan. 25, and the manner in which it was handled by officials."

"The Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office and the Gulf Breeze Police Department were immediately notified of this TikTok/Instagram video, and district officials worked alongside them to determine the parties involved that continue to spread false information concerning the safety of students," the School District release said.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Gulf Breeze High parents worried about threats of violence to students