Despite what they called “promising leads,” Phoenix Police have not yet made an arrest in connection with a social media threat that forced elevated security and disrupted classes for two days at Mountain Pointe High School.
Tempe Union High School District officials advised students to leave their backpacks home both Sept. 24 and Sept. 25 after someone posted a picture of a gun and a threat on the website Snapchat the evening of Sept. 23.
On Sept. 24, officials also had to scramble and post additional security at McClintock High as a result of a separate threat.
News of the threat also rippled through Kyrene schools in Ahwatukee as rumors abounded, prompting some principals to send emails to parents reassuring them that their children were safe. Some principals told parents they made additional checks to ensure doors were secure on the first morning after the threat was reported.
“We know that events like this can cause a heightened sense of anxiety for some students,” Altadena Middle School Principal James Martin wrote parents, adding that a student there compounded the tension by making “some comments about self-harm.”
“Fortunately, this was reported to our administrative staff, and we were able to address the situation and ensure the student’s safety. I very much appreciate the students who heard something concerning and reported it,” he said.
Martin also told parents, “I am also concerned because we saw signs of rumors and gossip spreading on campus. I encourage each of you to talk to your children about reporting potentially dangerous situations, but please make sure to address the importance of avoiding gossip and rumors.”
The threat also prompted Ahwatukee resident Scott Weinberg to renew his call to Kyrene officials to put school security officers in the three middle schools in Ahwatukee during a meeting of the governing board.
The state Department of Education awards grants to some school districts in Arizona to cover the cost of SROs.
One of those grants has enabled Chandler Police to station an officer in each of Kyrene’s two middle schools in that city.
But Phoenix Police have said in the past that the department doesn’t have the manpower to put SROs in all the high schools, let alone middle schools, in the city.
During last week’s PD Tukee Talks session, both Police Chief Jerri Williams and Cmdr. James Gallagher of the South Mountain Precinct, which covers Ahwatukee, addressed the Mountain Pointe threat.
“We’re a really big department with a whole lot of resources, and we take this kind of thing very seriously,” Williams said, saying detectives were called in the middle of the night to begin investigating the threat.
“That’s something that didn’t use to happen back in the day,” she added, indicating that as a result of so many school shootings in recent years, the department has a “much greater commitment now to immediately follow up” on such threats.
She said, “Detectives worked diligently” and continue to investigate the threat.
When asked why no one was apprehended yet, Williams explained that tracing online threats takes considerable time since cyber detectives must work their way through the internet.
Saying detectives have “some very good investigative leads that they continue to work with,” Williams added, “It’s not as easy to say that guy robbed that store and he was in that car, but they’re working on it and we’re confident we’re going to have a really good outcome with this investigation.”
Gallagher said, “When we have these specific threats, I would love to say that I’ve got a secret stash of cops that I can go send down to the schools on the campus, but unfortunately we don’t.”
But he also cited Phoenix Police’s close relationship with the Tempe, Chandler and Gila River Indian Community police departments and praised Tempe Union’s approach to security, noting it is headed by a former Mesa police chief.
He also said that the department’s Community Action Patrols routinely make stops at schools in Ahwatukee, especially during drop-off and pick-up times to ensure kids’ safety.