August 12, 2014

Texts could have turned to violence, Kelly warns school officials

Mascoutah High School could have been the site of mass violence last school year if not for a parent who intercepted texts and called police.

In an Aug. 7 letter to school superintendents, State's Attorney Brendan Kelly stated that a local school district "may have come dangerously close to becoming yet another community affected by school violence."

Kelly doesn't name the district in the letter, but in February, a 15-year-old boy in Mascoutah sent texts to his girlfriend stating that he wanted to "kill everyone he knows."

Mascoutah School Superintendent Craig Fiegel said the girl's mother noticed some of the threats and reported it to the high school principal, who notified Mascoutah police.

The boy was charged as a juvenile with attempting terrorist threats, according to Kelly's letter, and received an indeterminate term of detention in the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

The name of the boy cannot be released because juvenile cases are sealed under Illinois law.

Kelly lauded the people who brought the threats to law enforcement's attention and to school officials who notified parents and requested extra police presence.

"They did not write it off as a joke or 'venting,' but took what information they had at face value and informed the appropriate authorities. Thank God we will never know what harm they may have prevented. And that's the point," Kelly wrote.

In the letter, Kelly urges school superintendents to report all threats to law enforcement. The Belleville News-Democrat obtained the letter under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Fiegel said the district reviews the safety plan every year and will continue to take all threats seriously.

Lebanon School Superintendent Patrick Keeney said he meets with police once a year to review its safety plan.

"We do that to make sure that we are on the right path to protect our students," Keeney said.

Fiegel also urged parents and students to report any possible threat to school administration or law enforcement. Identifying students who are having a difficult time and getting them help is a proactive approach to stop school violence, Keeney said.

Kelly wrote: "As a law enforcement official, a former school board member and as a parent, I recognize the potential to overact out of fear, but we have first-hand experience that vigilance can make a difference.

"Educators, law enforcement, students and parents can strike the right balance. Hopefully, with a bit of smart sensitive preparation, we will avoid our own 'day after."'

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