Juvenile arrested for making threats against school

Published 11:55 am Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A female Southampton High School student was arrested on Tuesday in connection with making violent threats via social media on Sunday evening against the school.

Maj. Gene Drewery, spokesman for the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, stated that the girl was taken into custody on Tuesday morning and charged with Virginia Code 18.2-60 Felony threats to commit serious bodily harm to person on school property.

Drewery also said the girl will be detained at Chesapeake Juvenile Services pending an arraignment. He added that this site is used for all area juveniles charged and arrested for alleged crimes.

This arrest follows an investigation that began on Sunday when Southampton County Schools Supt. Dr. Gwendolyn Shannon was informed of an online threat from an account name of paulajameson2222.

In the online post, the suspect used a specific racial slur in the threat.

The superintendent immediately informed the sheriff’s office at approximately 9 p.m., and also alerted parents, faculty and other school personnel of the threat, which at that time could not be verified.

“Our investigators started working to establish the credibility and source of the threat,” Drewery said. “Our office was also in contact with the school administration.”

The investigation on Monday included issuing search warrants and they were able to obtain the origin of the threat, he added. Investigators went to the residence and interviewed several people from that place.

On Tuesday, more interviews were done at the high school before the 16-year-old suspect was taken into custody.

In an update to the announcement, Drewery said, “The investigation concluded that this threat was not involved with threats in any other jurisdiction.”

He was referring to other schools in the Greater Hampton Roads region that experienced similar threats. Later on Tuesday afternoon, a Smithfield High School student was arrested for making an online threat to a school in Isle of Wight County.

That 17-year-old boy was charged with a Class 5 felony and taken to the Chesapeake Juvenile Service.

In reaction to the news of the suspect’s arrest, Shannon issued a statement early this afternoon:

“I am grateful that the Southampton County Sheriff’s Department has arrested the alleged culprit.

“We are continuing to emphasize to our students that we take all threats seriously and will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. The safety of our students and staff is paramount. We will stop at nothing to ensure that everyone has a safe, wholesome and welcoming learning environment within our school division.”

Schools had been closed on Monday for President’s Day, and the superintendent had posted updates as needed, including the announcement that there would be more law enforcement at all schools on Tuesday.

Twenty deputies were posted at the schools that morning and sporadic checks were done through the day, said Drewery. The plan also included having officers present when classes ended. They will be there though the end of the week, said the superintendent.

“Our focus now, in addition to student safety, is a sense of normalcy,” said Shannon. “However, if at any time someone is made to feel unsafe, we will not hesitate to contact them [the deputies.] Further, we have a full-time school resource officer on staff, as well as school counselors, a school psychologist and school nurses. We also have teachers, administrator and other staff members who will continue to provide a wholesome, healthy and safe learning environment for our students.”

In response to the threat, a notable number of students either skipped school or were kept home on Tuesday. The superintendent gave the following attendance report for the schools.

• Capron: 62 absent; 132 present

• Meherrin: 118 absent; 207 present

• Nottoway: 93 absent; 225 present

• Riverdale: 210 absent; 342 present

• Southampton Middle: 382 absent; 230 present

• Southampton High: 540 absent: 271 absent

School board member Dr. Carolyn Modlin said of the incident, “I think that Dr. Shannon and the sheriff’s office did an outstanding job. I thought that her letters she sent out were excellent. She showed good leadership and did her best by the school administration, students and parents to keep them informed.

“It went smoothly. It was a frightening situation. You can’t take it lightly. All the incidents that have happened. Even though there were lots of copycat situations, you have to take each one seriously. It was handled appropriately and I was very pleased with the leadership of the sheriff’s office and school administration.”