The Cambrian

Investigation finds ‘no direct threat’ at Coast Union

Coast Union High School.
Coast Union High School.

A student who was accused of making comments that something bad might happen at Coast Union High School on June 2 apparently never meant to imply that and never intended any harm, according to Sheriff’s Office, school officials and the student’s mother.

Because of the trauma of the accusations, the mother said Saturday, June 3, that the family is keeping the student out of school for the rest of the year. He’s not being identified by name in this story because he is a minor.

Sheriff’s Cmdr. Jim Voge said Monday, June 5, that the situation apparently involved two separate incidents which, due to their timing, had appeared to constitute a threat. Earlier he had said, “We take every threat very seriously. … It was fully investigated. … There’s no such thing as just saying kids are kids anymore.”

Victoria Schumacher, superintendent of the Coast Unified School District, said Friday, June 2, that “there was no direct threat,” and the many rumors swirling through town by then were “not substantiated” by the investigation, Schumacher said.

“Safety is always a priority at our district,” she emphasized.

Schumacher said school officials notified parents Thursday night that an investigation was underway, law enforcement was involved and students would be safe.

Another robocall went out Friday morning, she said, notifying people that the Sheriff’s Office had finished the investigation and concluded “that there was no threat.” As a precaution, “law enforcement was at the high school this morning and was available to the other schools.”

In the meantime, parents, students and community members were understandably alarmed.

As one parent said of the investigation Friday morning, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Another said, “We don’t want to be the next Columbine because somebody didn’t pay attention,” alluding to the 1999 school massacre in Colorado, in which two gunmen killed 12 students and a teacher and injured 21 others.

Timeline

According to Sheriff’s Office records, at 2:05 p.m. Thursday, June 1, someone posted on social media what appeared to be a warning not to attend school at Coast the next day.

Later that day, in an overheard conversation, the student was asked whether he was glad school was almost over and summer was starting, his reply of wanting to “paint the walls red” took on an alarming tone, in part because of the earlier warning which appeared to have been posted by him.

So, school officials and sheriff’s deputies investigated the situation as a combined potential threat.

According to proof discovered during the investigation, Voge said, school Principal Scott Ferguson was soon convinced that the student who made the verbal statement did not post the warning on social media.

The student’s mother said later that her son’s comment about painting the walls red was meant to reflect his joy that the school year was nearly over, in the same vein as someone who talks about “painting the town red.”

Voge said investigators who interviewed teachers and others said that, even though the online message had appeared to have been posted by that student, he was not in the room at the time the message was posted on a computer there. Also, the grammar, spelling and punctuation were sharply different than that always used by the diligently grammar-correct student.

Voge said students apparently don’t have to sign out of the computer when they stop using it, which added to the confusion.

Sheriff’s Office records show, according to Voge, that after the online message was discovered, Ferguson left a voicemail alert for school resource Deputy Scott Newell at 3:37 p.m. June 1.

Ferguson then proceeded to investigate on his own, and determined that it was unlikely that the student at the center of the situation had posted the social media comment.

Voge said Ferguson followed proper protocol in handling the situation the way he did.

After some phone tag, Ferguson and Newell finally connected at 4:51 p.m. After a parent called 911 at 5:57 p.m. about the perceived threat, a uniformed deputy also went to the school, Voge said.

Schumacher said she and Ferguson remained on campus until nearly 10 p.m. Thursday. Early Friday morning, they were among the officials on hand to reassure students and parents.

Voge said deputies investigating the alleged threat went to the student’s home, interviewed him and family members at length. They found no guns, explosives or other evidence that the student planned to damage the school or hurt anybody.

Voge said that, while the student reportedly has a history of making inappropriate statements, investigators don’t believe he was threatening to damage the school or hurt anybody.

The student’s family is anti-gun, according to the commander, and the student assured deputies there was no intent to harm the campus or anybody on it.

However, the interview and subsequent upheaval have traumatized the student and family members, his mother said by phone Monday. While she realizes that the person who posted the social-media warning may never be identified, and the motive for the message may never be known, she said she feels her son and the family are entitled to a public apology.

In a twist of fate, there was already a substantial presence of deputies and other sheriff’s officials in Cambria June 1. They were there to participate in the “Tip a Cop” dinners that raise funds for Special Olympics.

What constitutes a threat?

According to California Penal Code 422a, it’s a threat when someone “willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out, which, on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family’s safety.”

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