More threats at TCAPS, prosecutor plans to continue to charge students

·4 min read

Dec. 22—TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools administrators canceled classes at Traverse City West Senior High School on Tuesday because of a violent threat.

A custodian at Traverse City West Senior High School found a threat against the school written on a stall in a boys' bathroom late Monday night. On Tuesday morning, TCAPS officials alerted families via email, Facebook and Twitter that West Senior High School classes would be canceled "out of an abundance of caution."

The threat contained comments about disliking the school, statements about shooting people in the school and mentions of explosives, said Capt. Chris Clark of the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department.

The threat was reported to the Sheriff's office at 8:50 p.m., Clark said. Multiple detectives from the department began working on the investigation on Monday at 9:30 p.m. and were interviewing students through Tuesday afternoon.

Like all the other threats within schools that have been reported and investigated this month, the threat found Monday night at West Senior High School will be sent to Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg to be reviewed.

Moeggenberg said that, following the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School in Oakland County, she has reviewed about 10 to 12 cases and has charged students in about half of them.

"Anyone that we could charge, we have," she said.

Some of the cases that have come to Moeggenberg in the past few weeks involved multiple students, some of which were involved for knowing about the threat and not reporting it. Those students will not be charged, Moeggenberg said, but they will be referred to the local juvenile diversion program.

The only charge Moeggenberg has brought upon students making these threats is "false report or threat of terrorism." It is a felony charge with a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The charge deals with false threats of violence that would disrupt government or civic function and actual threats of terrorism. Terrorism, in this charge, is defined as violence that poses a danger to human life, Moeggenberg said.

None of the threats that have come across Moeggenberg's desk were credible, she said. Students did not have the means or the intention to carry out the violent act that was threatened or alluded to.

"Most of them were blatantly false because either it was a dare or peer pressure or they wanted the day off school themselves," Moeggenberg said. "So that was by far the majority."

She has yet to receive a report on the threat and investigation at West Senior High School for review.

Clark said students, staff, teachers and members of the community should feel secure in the work the sheriff's department and the schools are doing to keep students safe.

"They should have confidence in not only the school to ensure that it's a safe environment for the students, but the partnership that we have with the schools to ensure that that is a safe environment," Clark said. "It's an excellent partnership."

Superintendent John VanWagoner said he has been discussing with local law enforcement and emergency management how to address threats moving forward. He said he has also spoken with the TCAPS board of education about potentially making the option to switch to virtual schooling when a threat occurs available to students and teachers.

"I take these all very, very seriously. Our law enforcement does, our board and, until we can have a good sense and be able to get these under control, I'm not going to put anybody in harm's way," VanWagoner said. "I have children in this district, many of our administrators do, board members do, in these very buildings that these things have happened in."

More than 100 schools across Michigan dealt with "copycat" threats of violence following the fatal Nov. 30 shooting that killed four people and injured seven. Since the beginning of December, TCAPS has faced multiple threats at its middle and high schools.

On Dec. 3, East Middle School students reported a threatening message, and TCAPS administration and local law enforcement responded to the threat immediately. On Dec. 16, a racist threat was found scrawled on a bathroom stall at Central High School that caused the administration to cancel classes at the high school the next day.

Another incident at Kingsley High School during the second week in December, in which a student's comment about owning a gun sparked fears following the Oxford shooting, led to an investigation as well. Sheriff's Department Capt. Randy Fewless said the fears at Kingsley High School sprang from false rumors about a student and were determined to be a non-threat to the school.

Moeggenberg said she hopes the upcoming break from school will silence the chatter about the Oxford shooting and stop future threats coming into her office at the volume they are now.

"I don't know to the extent that they absolutely followed suit from Oxford, but obviously that was what spurred the talk about it," Moeggenberg said.