Feb 182018
 

(c) Can Stock Photo / Stevemc

by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….

First Published on Feb 16, 2018

Following our coverage last week of alleged repeated gun threats by an HOB Middle School student, more questions have surfaced this week concerning a possible school cover-up of multiple gun related incidents at HOB.

After our story was published, HOB Principal Christina McPherson sent a note home to parents assuring them that all gun threat incidents had been thoroughly investigated, all protocols had been followed and that no risk existed.

The message however was immediately brought into question by a statement made by an HOB school guidance counselor.  She posted online about how shocked she was at not having been informed of the gun threats and of having to learn about them from a newspaper. According to a credible source inside the school the guidance counselor was thereafter called into the Principal’s office and made to delete her online comment. “Why was the school guidance counselor not informed?” asks our source, “and why is the Principal trying to suppress that particular fact?”

The Blue Paper was told of three incidents involving guns or threats of gun violence at HOB. First an 8th-grade student allegedly brought a gun to school. Fellow students reported the incident. A student who may or may not be the same 8th grader sent out a Snapchat message showing a photo of himself pointing a gun. The image’s caption included a death threat. Finally, more recently, the student in the photo allegedly told a fellow student [paraphrasing]: ‘This ain’t over. I’m gonna shoot you [at an after-school event].’

Principal McPherson claims all gun threat incidents at HOB have been thoroughly investigated. The Key West Police Department acknowledges that the school resource officer did see the photo. To be clear the photo we viewed shows the student pointing a hand gun. You literally look down the barrel of his gun and the photo’s caption says: “[student’s name] is gonna bust a cap in yah head.” 

KWPD spokesperson, Alyson Crean, responded to The Blue Paper’s January 26th inquiry with, “it’s not illegal to take a photo holding a gun.” However, under Florida law, sending a threat to kill through electronic communication is a felony of the second degree. [Florida Statute 836.10] After initially claiming the KWPD resource officer had conducted a full investigation, Crean yesterday posted on the KWPD Facebook page that KWPD did not investigate but rather had turned the Snapchat death threat case over to the Monroe County Sheriff’s office.

“Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Detectives investigated and went to the home. They have a full report available,” she wrote. However, we were informed that no such report could be located in the Monroe County Sheriff’s office files.

Just as we were about to publish this article, KWPD Chief, Donie Lee, informed us via email:

“It appears that our detectives confused the incident that you referred to at HOB with an incident that occurred in April 2017 that was handled by the MCSO. We were incorrect to state that the incident you referred to was investigated by the MCSO. So as Alyson originally reported to you that there was no report and the incidents at HOB were handled by the SRO and the school are correct. I apologize for any confusion this has caused.”

The claim that the attempt at covering-up the incident is the result of special protections being afforded to a particular student has also gained traction this week. Our source pointed out that the student’s mother works at the school and belongs to one of Key West’s old families. Additionally, the family has strong ties to the local police department.

This week a mother with law enforcement connections informed us that her daughter was offered, by the same 8th-grader shown in the photo, “to smoke a [joint] behind the school” during school hours. She also told The Blue Paper that the same student had sent a Snapchat image to her son (who is also an 8th-grader at HOB) showing a stack of drugs and offering to “get boogered-up with him” (meaning to snort cocaine).

The mother states she immediately called the KWPD resource officer at the school to complain. The student was reportedly called in and a search turned up a substantial amount of drugs (what type or exact amount is not known but described as more than needed for individual consumption.) The mother told us, “This happened on a Wednesday and Friday he was back at school bragging about how he hadn’t gotten into trouble. Any other kid, my kids, would have absolutely been expelled.” 

The Key West Citizen reported today that a student who brought a toy cap gun to school was expelled, but the school has given no indication that the student who made the Snapchat death threat with what we now know (well, according to The Citizen) was a real gun was disciplined at all.

It has been reported that some teachers now dread after-school events for, “this could be it.” The over-all impression is one of inconsistent and dysfunctional discipline at HOB, even when guns and drugs are involved.

The District claims in their recent press release that all “protocols and procedures were followed.” We have asked twice now for a copy of those so-called “protocols” regarding red-flagged children and have yet to receive a material response. Must the school guidance counselor be notified? Does the school have a psychologist on retainer? Should all school personnel be brought into the loop and told to be vigilant in watching over red-flagged students? Is there a computer savvy counselor capable of following those students on the net (almost all student shooters have been found, too late, to have posted online ample signs of distress or dangerous suicidal or homicidal thoughts.)

The District states that “all protocols and procedures have been followed” but that they “cannot be shared” with the public. Yet such documents, if they truly exist, are public record. A public official who refuses to comply with public records law in order to cover-up a mistake or shortcoming could face criminal charges under Florida Statute 119.10.

In the midst of this controversy Principal McPherson held a meeting with school personnel. With emotions running high the meeting was described by one of our sources as at times stormy, reportedly causing the Principal to issue a “gag order” on all school personnel.

The desire to hide gun threats at HOB from the public eye may not be just about protecting some well-connected students. Because of the competition from charter schools, bad publicity has turned into an existential threat. What School Board member Andy Griffith called, “White-Flight” could result in depleting funding for public schools like HOB.

This is too serious an issue for anyone to take it personally. We at The Blue Paper hope and pray that this article does not result in singling out any particular children. In our opinion children are to be guided back when they get lost. Students sometimes go through very difficult times through no fault of their own. However, so far, the District has failed to forward any proof that any type of policies or safeguards exist in the Monroe County school system to identify, control, and assist red-flagged students.

During a November 15, 2016 gun scare at Key West High, KWPD responded with extraordinary promptness. They were on scene in considerable numbers within just minutes. The problem is it will always be too late. When the danger comes from within, prevention is the key.

This week again, the heart wrenching catastrophe at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland involved a shooter who had left a long trail of terrifying warnings. He’d reportedly posted on Youtube, “I am going to be a professional school shooter.” Apparently, the students at Douglas High often joked about how, if there was ever going to be a shooter there, it would be Nicolas Cruz. On Wednesday he killed 17 people, but no adult seemed to have a clue. The Principal stated, “There was absolutely no warning.”

The painful lesson of recent events is that school security can no longer rely only on armed policemen and a regimen of detention or even metal detectors. (Cruz began firing outside the school and gained his way in.) Warning signs are always there, but they are hiding from adults on the internet as if in a parallel universe. The Monroe County School District must create policies that include hiring (or training) a new type of counselor. They will need to be savvy enough to follow students into the darkest corners of the net looking for signs of distress and danger, just as they do while patrolling the corridors of the school.

“What I would tell you is that mental health issues in this country are growing and they are a big challenge and it’s something that’s going to need to be addressed within our school systems as well as in the broader society to ensure that these types of tragedies don’t continue. We have to be able to recognize individuals that are in distress that have challenges and be able to find ways to support them.” ~ Principal of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the afternoon of the shooting.

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Arnaud and Naja Girard
Arnaud and Naja Girard, owners and editors of the new, digital, Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper) previously reported for the former Key West The Newspaper, Key West’s longest running independent weekly, published by Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D., from January 1994 until November 2012. The Girards are perhaps best known for their discovery of and extensive research surrounding the US Navy’s 1951 claim of ownership of Wisteria Island but are also responsible for top investigative stories including breaking news coverage of the highly controversial in-custody-death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day 2013, the catastrophic police tasing of Matthew Shawn Murphy, and the property tax scandal involving Balfour Beatty to name a few. Arnaud and Naja have lived in Key West since 1986.
 February 18, 2018  Posted by at 12:58 am * Featured Story *, Naja and Arnaud Girard  Add comments

  7 Responses to “UPDATE: Cover-up of Gun Threat at HOB Middle School?”

  1. Interesting. One would hope for more transparency from our school system.

  2. Very, very well done!! Please stay on this issue as I believe it to be extremely important.

    I am not surprised that the School District was unable or unwilling to locate and release the protocols for dealing with red-flagged students. This is a common problem according to my experience with the District. I ran into the exact same situation when I requested copies of the rules, regulations and procedures regarding the awarding of $5,000 grants to 50 teachers while overlooking many, many others.

  3. BTW. If The Blue Paper has to cease publication , then stories like this and real journalism is a thing you’ll have to do without. Please look back on all the investigative research and blockbuster stories they have done these past few years. I find it hard to believe that real Keywesters would allow the paper to fade. Come ON People , send a check..!

  4. The blue paper just blew up the school district, again, for pretending it does not have a serious problem with a Conch boy student, whose mother works for the school district, for putting himself an a loaded revolver on (social media) and threatening to cap a fellow student. The parents of students in that school knew nothing of it. The student counselor who got upset for not knowing anything about it, and she posted that on Facebook, was ordered to take it down by the school principal. The Key West Citizen white-washed it yesterday. KWPD Donnie Lee pretended he didn’t know about the student shooter threat.

    I suppose the Key West Citizen, Chief Lee, the the school district, the school board, the HOB principal, Alyson Crean are, what?, pawns of the NRA? Worried that tourism will be affected? Worried that the Conchs will be offended? Worried that Conchs will retaliate. Shoot them? Blow up their cars or homes? Or is it as simple as 6-term (4 years per term) Conch school board member Andy Griffiths philosophy: “Praise in public, criticize in private”?

    What it is, is seriously fucked up. What it is, is the school board, school superintendent, principal of Horace O’Bryant Middle School, the Citizen, Alyson Crean and KWPD are terrorists, just like the principle of that school in Broward County, who knew that student was a rotten egg, was dangerous, and did not report him to law enforcement. After all, everyone has a right to own an AR-15. The NRA says so.

    No matter. The blue paper keeps exposing the rotten eggs in the establishment, and the blue paper’s thousands of let’s you and them fight readers, for the most part, keep wanting to read Pulitzer and Al Jazeera level journalism for nothing.

  5. The NRA does not want felons to have access to guns, the NRA does not want criminals to plead down to short jail sentences, the NRA wants the mental issues and convicted domestic violence information to be released to law enforcement and traded among them so the INSTA CHEK can work as it was intended. We have a huge mental health problem in this country and it is the one-ton elephant in the room no one wants anyone to know let alone talk about. Privacy laws are hamstringing law enforcement from doing their job. Blaming an inanimate object will not solve the problem. You have to go to the source. Serious mental issues and culture of death existing in our country has caused this to spill out into the streets. Put the blame where it really is and do something about it and a lot of these problems will go away. Everytime something like this happens it is not spontaneous it has been brewing for a long time and red flags are flying and no one wants to address the problem because they are afraid of offending someone by labeling them mentally ill.

  6. Ahh, the NRA wants this to just go away. School superintendent and the writer above focus , as Trump does, on mental illness without addressing the actual gun issues. Dr Porter should go to Tallahassee and Washington and take on the NRA with it’s lobbyists and Pac money. Might not make a difference, but it’s the right thing to do.

  7. It seems it will not go away. It seems the Broward County police department has a lot of explaining to do. 18 times they were called about Cruz and they refused to address the issue. Now it seems the armed guards. 3 of them it now comes to light, refused to go after the shooter. If you watched the CNN Townhall farce, the Broward County Sheriff was on stage worming and squirming trying like the dickens to backpedal and deflect anything Dana threw at him. He will have his day in court if FIA data shows him derelict in his duties. These guys can’t be stopped by police sitting on their hands refusing to do their jobs. We need to reopen the state mental institutions and start putting the qualified patients in there where they belong. He should have been rounded up years ago. But that I know would not be PC….right??