Sep. 21—A local juvenile has been arrested as part of a multi-state investigation into recent bomb threats at Cullman County's schools.
During a press conference Tuesday morning to announce the arrest, Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry said information that can be released about the person arrested is limited because they are a juvenile, but the person was part of a group of juveniles in four other states who called in threats to schools.
The group was taking part in an internet/social media prank called "swatting," which involves calling in a bomb threat to a school or other facility and videoing the response of the responding police officers or SWAT team, Gentry said.
Gentry said Cullman High School received a bomb threat on Sept. 2 and a threat was called in to the Cullman County Courthouse on Sept. 3. On Sept. 7, a bomb threat was called in to Cullman Middle School and West Point Middle School, with an additional threat called to Cullman High School and West Point High School on the following day.
The juvenile also called in a threat to the sheriff's office claiming to be a man who had murdered his wife and barricaded himself into his home, and said he preparing for a shootout with law enforcement.
Once investigators found that all of the calls were connected with each other, they began making arrests and coordinating with law enforcement officers from other states to find and arrest everyone else who was responsible for the threats, Gentry said.
"The reason this has been delayed a little bit is because of doing multiple search warrants in multiple states in conjunction with this group," he said.
Gentry said search warrants have been executed in four states, with arrests already made or arrests pending regarding the incidents in Cullman County.
He said the community should know that everyone is safe and law enforcement did a great job in taking care of the county's schools, and he and many of the other officers involved in the investigation have children of their own in Cullman County's schools.
"Our children are our most precious resource, and for somebody to do this to put fear in the hearts of students and teachers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, it's just, to me, it's unspeakable," he said.
Gentry said the arrests made during this investigation should also serve as a warning for others who are thinking about doing the same thing.
"I hope that this is a lesson that will be learned for other juveniles, other people, that decide that they want to do something called 'swatting' where they're wanting to video law enforcement do like this," he said. "Because it will affect your life in a negative way when we come and we arrest you for terrorist threats."
Cullman Police Department Public Information Officer Adam Clark thanked all of the law enforcement officers from the different agencies that were involved in the case and said their cooperation made the investigation easier.
He said the local investigators on the case from the Cullman Police Department were Sergeant Trey Higginbotham and Lieutenant Intae Suh, and from the Cullman Sheriff's Office were Investigator Jeff Lawson and Lieutenant Phillip Harris.
"They did a fantastic job getting these guys, and we just want to let you know that we appreciate all the hard work that these guys do from day to day," Clark said.
Cullman County District Attorney Wilson Blaylock said the juvenile will be charged with making terrorist threats for calling the threats in to the local schools, and will also be charged with soliciting a terrorist threat for asking a juvenile in another state to call in another threat to Good Hope Middle School.
"The local juvenile will be charged with making a terrorist threat and solicitation based on the two separate acts," he said.
Blaylock said the juvenile in the other state is expected to be arrested for the same act, and will not need to be extradited to Alabama if they are charged in that state.
"We're going to keep a close eye on that, and if need be, we'll extradite that juvenile to the state of Alabama for prosecuting," he said. "If the other state follows through with their prosecution, then there would be no need for us to prosecute also. I assure you that these juveniles will be brought to justice."
Blaylock said every juvenile involved in the threats will face consequences for their actions.
"It's a very serious matter, and everyone treats it seriously, and for that reason, we want everybody to rest assured that this community is safe and law enforcement will continue to ferret out the evidence and bring these subjects to justice," he said.
Cullman City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff thanked Gentry, Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper and all of the law enforcement personnel involved in the investigation for their sense of urgency and thoroughness in the case.
He also thanked the administration, staff, students and parents of students in Cullman Middle School and Cullman High School for their quick response to the threats when they were made.
"I just want to thank everyone that was involved," he said.