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Police, western Washington schools on alert after social media threats

Schools across western Washington are stepping up security in response to threats and a nationwide school violence threat alleged on TikTok.

LYNNWOOD, Wash. — A 15-year-old high school student in Lynnwood was arrested Thursday morning after bringing a gun to school.

Lynnwood police arrested the Meadowdale High School student after another student reported to parents that the male teen had brought a pistol and ammunition to campus.

"It came down to students informing the parents and that parent reaching out to police," said Lynnwood Police Department Public Affairs and Communications Manager Joanna Small.

Small said detectives made contact with the boy and his parents and found the gun and ammunition in his room. Police said the teen admitted to showing the gun to several students. Police said the gun belonged to a relative, and it was stolen from the relative's safe several months ago.

"Anything that has to do with weapons, with threats, with school safety, we're going to take that very, very seriously,” said Small. “The detectives will respond immediately because you don't know until you talk to those parents or that child.”

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The teen was expelled from Meadowdale High School, according to a letter sent to families regarding the arrest. He was booked into a juvenile detention center in Everett and faces charges relating to the theft of a firearm and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Meadowdale High School is in the Edmonds School District. Thursday's arrest comes not long after a 14-year-old Meadowdale Middle School student was arrested for making a separate threat earlier this month.

"Every student deserves a safe learning environment, free of violence, weapons and safety threats,” Edmonds School District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said in a statement to KING 5. “Students who violate our zero-tolerance policy will be held accountable. We encourage anyone who sees something or has information about a safety issue to report it immediately by calling 911 or using our Safe Schools Alert system.”

Meanwhile, school districts across the U.S. are scrambling to deal with a TikTok post threatening acts of violence in schools nationwide on Friday. Local school districts and law enforcement have acknowledged in letters to families and the public that there is no credible threat from the circulating post.

While it's unclear where the original post alleging the threat originated from, school districts across western Washington are addressing it.

The Tacoma School District is going on a modified lockdown because of the post, meaning classes will go on as normal, but exterior school doors will be locked, according to school officials.

Cleveland STEM High School in Seattle canceled classes on Friday due to a "shortage of critical teaching staff.” Sporting events and other activities are also postponed Friday due to the school cancelation. According to the school’s website, administrators will be at the school between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. so students can pick up supplies, resources and lunches.

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) sent an email to parents Friday morning saying they were aware of the “national social media TikTok challenge threatening school violence.” SPS said it takes “all threats seriously” and the district’s security team is working with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to “evaluate the situation.”

“We want to assure families, students, and staff there is no evidence of a specific threat towards SPS schools,” the email to parents reads. “While there isn’t a SPS specific threat, the Seattle Police Department is ready to respond should any problems arise.”

King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht also released a statement Thursday, saying her department is unaware of credible threats to King County schools.

"The King County Sheriff's Office wants to assure everyone in our community that we, in collaboration with school districts and regional partners, will remain vigilant in assessing online comments and holding those accountable who seek to harm or disrupt our schools," Johanknecht’s statement reads.

SPS tweeted Franklin High School would be open with a normal start time on Friday after school was canceled “out of an abundance of caution” Wednesday due to a threat on social media. Classes were also canceled Thursday “due to an unexpected shortage of critical teaching staff.” SPS said there will be “extra social-emotional supports available to students throughout the day” Friday.

The SPD said Friday a 17-year-old girl was arrested for making threats against Franklin High School. The girl told police the “incident was a hoax,” according to a SPD Blotter post. The teen was released to her parents are the case is being forwarded to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

The Bothell Police Department is investigating after graffiti was discovered that threatened violence Thursday on the Bothell High School campus. Northshore School District Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid said, out of an abundance of caution, the Bothell High School campus will be closed Friday, and classes will be held virtually.

“We will continue to take these threats seriously, and we will continue to investigate along with law enforcement and District safety and security to identify the individual(s) responsible for disrupting the learning process,” Reid said in a statement on the school’s website. “There will be consequences.”

Lake Washington School District also sent a statement to parents about the social media threats, saying in part, "Social media is a powerful tool often used to influence others, and not always for the good. It is always important to remain vigilant when it involves these types of threats. Please take time to talk to your students about the influence of social media and the potential consequences of engaging in this type of behavior."

The Lake Washington School District said there were no credible threats to any of its schools. 

KING 5 reached out to school psychologists who work with the National Association of School Psychologists on why there seems to be a rise in school threats, including bogus ones.

"We do know there appears to be a contagion effect in some cases when an act of violence, such as the Michigan school shooting a few weeks ago, when something like that happens, there tends to be more threats that follow that," said Scott Woitaszewski, director of the School Psychology Program at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls.

Woitaszewski said the reasons for an increase in school violence threats have many layers. He pointed out that students have been isolated during pandemic-era learning. Most threats are what he calls transient, which means not credible and can be a cry for help.

"It's a way of lashing out and perhaps maybe gaining someone's attention," said Woitaszewski.

Washington has a school-based threat assessment program that went into effect statewide for the 2020-2021 school year, according to the state's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The threat assessment program requires school districts to form trained threat assessment teams and develop intervention strategies should they be needed.

Police continue to stress their go-to tip of "see something, say something."

"Don't be afraid to call 911,” said Small. “Parents, don't be afraid to talk to your kids.”


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