Heights Attempts to Return to Normal After Serious Threats

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Parents and students were concerned when Shawnee Heights High School received a threat of a school shooting the last week of January. Administration quickly took action to make sure students and staff were safe.

“I received the message about 8 p.m. on Monday evening,” superintendent Dr. Marty Stessman said. “We have been through this a couple times before, so my initial response was ‘Oh no, not again,’ We had other threats in 2012 and another in 2008, both shooting threats,” Stessman said.

The threat was made by text and eventually reached social media soon after. The threat, sent on January 25, warned students not to come to school on Friday, January 29, as well as saying “tomorrow will be our first and final SH shootout.”

The threat had circulated on social media for about an hour before Principal West sent out a message to parents informing them of the situation at 8:08 p.m. At that time, the school was already in contact with local law enforcement. immidietly the next moring, security measures were out into place at SHHS. 

“We limit the entrances to one or two places, and saturate them with school personnel and law enforcement officers and search book bags,” Stessman explained.

Tuesday at 6:30 a.m. Mr. West sent out another message to parents for an update on the situation. This message briefly stated that similar threats were made to schools in Alabama, Florida, Missouri and Michigan. The text was essentailly a copy and paste of the same message circulating in other states, with only the location and date changed.

“The key is to keep people informed because what happens is…social media feeds into the rumors,” school board president Eric Deitcher said. “Things just really start building and building and building and people don’t know truth from a reliable source, it just keeps festering and it gets worse.”

As of February 1, the metal detecting wands are no longer being used on students as they enter the building, as the person starting the rumors was identified. The first week of February helped SHHS return to business as usual as attendence numbers reached normal levels. The moring after the threat 465 students were marked absent.

Following the Shawnee Heights threat, other Topeka schools received similar threats, more specifically Topeka High. Although the threat was not the same as the one that Shawnee Heights received, it was still a threat that put the school on high alert.

“Everybody has a belief that to make schools safer that we need more people with guns in schools, whether arming teachers or having more law enforcement,” Stessman said. “But I don’t think that is the answer. I think that the answer is creating a culture and a system that supports kids who have mental health issues and makes kids feel like they belong…like having a caring adult in the building they can talk to so that in the end we don’t create kids who want to shoot their classmates…that makes us safer,” Stessman said

The question was proposed: Do you think every day metal detection is necessary, matching other schools  in the area?

“I think that it will be something brought up [in further school board meetings]. Do I think it’s necessary to have here on a daily basis at Shawnee Heights? No I don’t,” Deitcher said.

According to latest reports, the student responsible for the text threat has been identified, however due to privacy of minors, their name will not be published.

“The only thing I would like to add is that in our world today with instant public access to information and the pervasiveness of social media, one impulsive decision can have a big impact on one’s life.  There is no unsend button and you can’t erase the Internet,” Stessman said.

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