Oxford shooting sparks threats against Birmingham district, admin explains why school remained open

by Caden Meyers

“I'm gonna shoot you guys, and if I can't bring a gun, I will bring a knife.”

An 8th grade Berkshire middle school student shouted this to a Berkshire 7th grader, and multiple students witnessed the threat on December 1.

In the wake of the Oxford shooting and daily copycat threats throughout Oakland County, Beverly Hills detective James Balagna searched the student’s house and did not find any guns, determining the threat was not credible.

“When I went over to the student's house, I talked to their mom and dad. There was no credibility to the threat, no access to weapons in the home or anything like that. Everything ended up being fine,” Balagna said.

Before Balagna determined the threat was not credible, Berkshire principal Jason Clinkscale sent out an email to parents of the district regarding the threat. In his letter, Clinkscale wrote the following: “Earlier today, it was reported by several of our students that they overheard a classmate make threatening comments about bringing a gun to school tomorrow to harm particular students. At this time, the student will not be attending school and we are currently working with our police liaison officer and the Beverly Hills Department of Public Safety to assess the credibility of the threat.”

Balagna explained that anyone who makes such threats face serious, criminal penalties.

“The specific charge is making a terrorist threat or making false reports of terrorism, intent or capability to commit terrorism and is a felony. The penalty for such a crime is up to 20-years in prison, with up to a $20,000 fine,” Balagna said.

Despite the report of terrorism at Berkshire, the Birmingham school district was one of the only districts that stayed open the Thursday after the Oxford shooting. Groves, like many schools in the county, received social media copy-cat threats to shoot up the school. Though deemed “not credible”, these threats did terrify some students.

As her panic rose, freshman Morgan Walker left school in the middle of the day.

“I thought it was unfair that our school was one of the only schools open with the large sum of threats our county was getting. I felt scared about the amount of threats that were still out there and possibly uninvestigated,” Walker said. “Home just felt safer because I live quite far from any schools.”

One of the threats made towards Groves reads as follows: “F### it man, times are rough, might as well go out in a bang. I’m finna hit up chs, and groves so stay home.”


Principal Dr. Susan Smith alerts staff about this online threat via email on December 2. "Police have information that the original message was sent by a student from another school, and then edited to read Groves . As there are a few different versions we have received, we are trying to determine who has edited this message. Thank you to the students and staff who reached out to make sure we were aware," Smith wrote. In her thank you message to students over the loud speaker, Smith cautioned students against continuing to Tweet this threat after it had been deemed not credible.

Superintendent Embekka Roberson addressed why the district decided to keep the school open. Roberson offered the opportunity for students to receive social and emotional support as well as safety training at school. Despite this, nearly half the students stayed home with family members that Thursday.

While Roberson supported student and parent choice to stay home, she also applauded the collaboration between students, staff, and police liaison officers who stayed in school and navigated a complex and often emotional situation. In a letter Roberson sent to the community on December 7, she wrote:

“It has been an emotional week following the tragic events at Oxford High School. Our students, at all levels, have had opportunities to express their feelings and better understand the mental health and reporting resources available to them. I want to thank our teachers, support staff, and building leaders for focusing on social-emotional learning and safety and security training this Friday,” Roberson wrote. “I also want to thank each of you that took the time to discuss the events of the last week with your child(ren) as they fit for your family. This may have been as simple as an emotional check-in with your child or may have been a more detailed discussion around fears. Having your assistance with these conversations helps to ensure students feel connected and supported.”

Roberson finished her letter by stating that while there is a focus on reviewing outside security, there are also efforts being made to monitor school culture and improve restorative practices.

To ease the district's growing fears and to ensure the safety of students and staff, the administrators increased police presence within and around the schools.

“Every day this week so far, and last week, we have had one or two officers walking through the halls. I've been here [Groves] almost every day. So we will have around two or three officers in the school pretty much at all times. During the day about six or seven officers are ready to respond to anything. They are usually just a quick radio call or a phone call away, so it's pretty easy to get bodies here quickly,” Balagna said.

Wellness counselor Gregorio Cognetto recognized how these continual threats caused an atmosphere of fear and encouraged students to visit him for a safe space and tips to overcome anxiety. Cognetto also emphasized that all Groves staff support students' emotional well-being.

“I know that we at Groves are committed to working as a team to handle the emotional support of the students. Anytime a student might be in harm or other students might be in danger, we at Groves work as a team and figure out what we need to do to ensure the student is okay and so that everyone else here feels safe,” Cognetto said.

The district is in the process of selecting an outside firm to conduct a security audit. The auditors search each school to identify what the schools can change to improve student and staff safety.

The district encourages students, staff, and members of the community to report concerns on the OK2Say program as well as the Tipline 8-555-OK2SAY or at OKAY2SAY@mi.gov.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Archive
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square