FORTVILLE — Amy Wingfield just didn’t want to take the chance.
When her 15-year-old son came home from Mt. Vernon High School saying a classmate had asked him if he wanted to help shoot up the school, she contacted school officials and took to social media to alert fellow parents.
By Tuesday afternoon, police had identified the student they said they believe is responsible for that threat and taken him into custody. The teen was taken to the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center in Muncie, police said.
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But parents were left shaken. Half the high school student body — approximately 600 students — were absent after school officials gave families the green light to keep their children home as the investigation continued.
During the weekend, Wingfield’s post — which described a boy her son didn’t know walking past him as school let out Friday and making the threat — had gone viral, prompting Mt. Vernon administrators to heighten security at each of the districts’ buildings Tuesday morning. They required students to pass through a security checkpoint and have their bags searched before entering the building. School had been closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Police used school security camera footage to identify the teen, Superintendent Shane Robbins said. The boy was questioned and admitted to making the comment and told investigators he meant it as a joke, Robbins said.
The incident at Mt. Vernon follows a string of threats at central Indiana schools. Police investigated threats at Plainfield High School and in Franklin during the holiday season. A Seymour High School student was arrested Tuesday morning on an attempted murder charge after threatening a fellow student.
All threats to student safety are treated with the utmost seriousness, Robbins said.
Robbins said he saw the post for the first time Monday night and immediately notified police and his fellow administrators.
Transparency with the community and parents in times of concern is key, and a notice to students, teachers and parents was sent out late Monday, Robbins said. In the message, Robbins said the school would have increased security protocols, including police presence at every building and backpack searches at Mt. Vernon High School.
High school students and staffers are usually allowed to enter the building through any door before it is locked at the start of the school day, when entrance is restricted to the door by the main office. Tuesday, traffic into the high school was restricted to three doors where police were stationed, and all bags were searched.
Teacher DuWain Boss was among school officials who volunteered to go through students’ belongings Tuesday morning, making sure nothing harmful slipped into the building.
Teachers found out about the threat at the same time as parents and students, said Boss, a special education teacher.
When teachers arrived Tuesday morning, teachers gathered to talk about how to keep the day running smoothly, he said.
Students who attended were cooperative with the extra security measures and attended class as usual, Boss said. But there were many empty chairs.
Tori Whyde, a junior, said she spoke with her parents after seeing the Facebook post Monday night.
She’s always felt safe at the high school, and that won’t change, she said; but something felt different, Whyde said.
Her parents decided to keep her home for the day, and many of her friends’ parents followed suit.
“They just didn’t want to take that chance,” she said.
Robbins told families Monday night students would not be penalized if their parents kept them home.
Students who missed school Tuesday were considered excused absences.
Fortville Police Lt. Patrick Bratton said the officers spoke with Wingfield and her son Monday evening to gather as much information as possible about what the teen heard.
Wingfield’s son provided a description of what the student was wearing, which gave officers someone to look for in the school’s security footage.
There is no definition that police follow when determining if a threat in credible or not, Bratton said. As a precaution, the department brought extra officers to the school Tuesday to serve as extra eyes and ears.
In recent months, the Fortville Police Department has overseen several criminal cases after bomb threats were called in to Mt. Vernon High School. In March, two bank robbers used a threat against students to distract police; in October, three teens were accused of a similar crime. Arrests were made in both cases.
Wingfield said she tried to contact the school Friday, but it was late in the day, after everyone had left for the weekend. But the message haunted her, she said, so she posted a warning.
“I would hope that someone would do that for me,” Wingfield said. “If something had happened, and I hadn’t said anything, I couldn’t live with myself.”