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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