Police are working with a tech firm to track the whereabouts of social media messages that posed a threat against Eastern High School students early Thursday morning.
Dennis Stockdale, East Washington School Corporation Superintendent said schools would be open on Friday.
But Stockdale said students are being asked not to bring backpacks to school. If backpacks are brought, he said they will be searched as they arrive at school.
“We’re going to ask kids to do things a little differently tomorrow,” Stockdale said. “We’re going to ask parents to do things a little differently. I’m asking parents to be patients because we anticipate it may take a little bit longer to get the kids where they need to be in the morning, but we can ensure their safety, and that’s first.”
There will be a much stronger presence with police on campus, he said.
Through working with the Pekin Town Marshall, Indiana State Police and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and a school-focused tech company called Safer Schools Together, they have identified the threats came from a foreign app that allows anyone to post anonymously.
“We found that these messages originated with an app called Sarahah,” said Stockdale, “It identified first names of what we think were a couple of students. Some generic comments were made towards the school. We have been trying to pinpoint how specific and accurate they are. That’s why we brought in Safe Schools and law enforcement to take it to the next level, so we can get behind this and find who this is.”
We have some confidence we can pinpoint who the person is. That person will be prosecuted to the fullest,” said Stockdale.
“Sarahah” is the Arabic word for candor or openness, and those are certainly qualities that could be used to describe the many users who are flocking to download the social app that lets them send anonymous messages.
This app was introduced in late 2016 by Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, and began as a website intended for employees to give anonymous, honest feedback to their employers.
After some success in Arabic-speaking countries, Tawfiq rolled out an English version last summer. Like many anonymous messaging apps before it, the new app has caught on rapidly with teens.
Stockdale said law enforcement has spoken with the students involved – those who received the post. He said the original post was re-transmitted through Snapchat to others.
“There’s a lot of gray area of where the original post came from,” he said.
“At this point we don’t know if it’s a local post or if it is a generic post that could hit multiple places throughout the country,” Stockdale said. “We’ve seen that in schools here in the past few years those happening, so we need to identify that, work on that, and that’s what’s happening now through law enforcement and some of the other agencies.”
“There was some conversation – I can’t talk about now – that really maybe gives us hope that we can at least identify that it might be a student or that it might not be and might just be a hacker. The experts are looking at that for us. We definitely want to be proactive,” he said.
Stockdale said school officials were notified at midnight and immediately began planning to call of school so they could investigate and determine the threat assessment. “I don’t think any of us have been to bed yet. That’s how important it is. Parents trust me with the security of their children. They expect us to get them to school safely, keep them safe while they are here and get them from school to home safely. We wanted to make sure we were able to do that.”
“The decision was made to immediately cancel classes and get a plan together for tomorrow so they would be safe.
In working with law enforcement, Stockdale had nothing but great things to say. “We have some of the best law enforcement around….from the town marshall, to the state police, to the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. Working with everyone has allowed us to put a plan in place along with staff and law enforcement. To have a heightened security presence when our kids come tomorrow. They’ll be safe while we investigate and get to the bottom of the post.”
“It’s been a very concerted effort for the safety of our kids, so we’re confident tomorrow that we can bring kids back on campus while we continue the investigation into where these threats might have originated from,” he said.
Several threats are made to schools around the US each day. In fact, there were several others around the country today.
Even a day after a tragic school shooting in which 2 students were killed and over a dozen were injured, a threat was made at a Kentucky school.
Madisonville Police officers have taken two juveniles into custody after false threats of a school shooting circulated on social media.
The message directing threats at Hopkins County Schools happened late Tuesday night, according to a statement from Major Chris Taylor of Madisonville Police.