Officials increased security at Belleville West High School and Mascoutah schools Monday after parents and students reported a late-night social media post that used racial slurs and threatened violence with a picture of a gun attached to it.
Investigators found similar photos and comments posted in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Virginia. The Instagram post concerning Belleville schools appeared to be an altered screenshot of a message that originated out of state taken from previously published articles, said Belleville Master Sgt. Todd Keilbach.
Detectives identified a male juvenile person of interest in the case, who was interviewed Monday, Keilbach said.
In an audio message sent out to parents at about 7 a.m. Monday, Belleville West High School Principal Rich Mertens told parents school authorities were working with Belleville police Monday morning to determine who posted the threat.
“Of course, we take these threats very seriously,” Mertens said in the recording. “In light of this, we will have several additional security measures in place for the safety of our students and staff.”
Mascoutah police also announced early Monday morning that a separate but similar message had been posted with the abbreviation “MHS.”
Superintendent Craig Fiegel said families were concerned after seeing the post and notified district officials.
“It turned out to be a school in Virginia, so we knew before our day started that we didn’t have any issues,” he said Monday. “But our police were very good about responding and checking it out to determine it was not about our school.”
Even so, the post stated police would increase patrols at all Mascoutah schools Monday.
Belleville District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the post his district was notified of was accompanied with a picture of a gun.
“So the Belleville police began investigating that immediately,” Dosier said. “In fact, I believe they had that information before our administration was made aware of it.”
Dosier said school officials have been in contact with police since late Sunday night.
“I was told by a student that the same picture and a similar message had been posted at several other schools around the country,” Dosier said. “But with that said, we do take any kind of threat like this very seriously. We have added security in the form of police officers and other personnel; we’ve got some other things that we’re doing regarding security just to make sure we cover our bases with this.”
He added that students have come forward with information about who may have posted the message and authorities are following up.
“One of the things that we know about students is generally, they can’t keep a secret if they’ve posted something like this,” Dosier said. “So, hopefully we will find out who has made this post rather quickly.”
The superintendent noted the district has not experienced many social media threats in recent years; however, officials deal with social media issues regarding students almost every day.
Anyone with information is asked to call Belleville police at 618-234-1212.
“Whether it’s simply re-posting this or somebody thinking it’s a joke — these things are not funny,” Dosier said. “We have to take it very seriously and ensure the safety and security of our schools, our students, and staff members.”