Metro-East News

Columbia parents criticize district's handling of student's 'hit list' of peers

After Columbia school district officials sent an email alerting parents of threats made against students last week, some parents are questioning the district's response.

A student allegedly made a "hit list" of students and sketched out a plan to take action, said Nate Vineyard, the father of a 16-year-old student at the top of the list. The plan allegedly criticized the Parkland, Florida, shooter's choice of gun, saying the shooting wasn't as effective as it could have been, Vineyard said.

The school sent out a districtwide email Monday after Vineyard and another parent went to speak to Principal Brian Reeves, according to Vineyard. The school and police were informed about the threats on March 21.

Vineyard said the district was not taking the threats seriously enough. The teenager had told multiple students about his plan, according to Vineyard, and had posted about it on the "House Party" application, where people can video-chat with multiple friends at once.

"In the height of everything going on nationally, for them to have a situation like this where there was no notification, nothing sent out to parents ..." Vineyard said. "Reeves didn't want to talk about it. He was completely put off that we were there."

Reeves directed a reporter to district Superintendent Gina Segobiano for comments. Segobiano said officials were informed of the threat on the afternoon of March 21. At that point, they immediately removed the student from the school environment, she said in an email Tuesday.

The student was disciplined, according to Segobiano, but because he is a juvenile, specifics of his punishment cannot be discussed.

Segobiano, however, did say the student violated the third level of the student code of conduct, meaning the student will receive a one- to 10-day suspension and may be expelled, depending on a determination made at a Board of Education hearing.

The threat was reported to the Columbia Police Department, which took over the investigation, Segobiano said. Officials continued to work to obtain information on the threat Thursday and Friday. After speaking with the department Monday, officials decided it was appropriate to notify parents about the incident.

Though there is no single profile for school shooters, people at risk for hurting themselves or others often exhibit warning signs before committing acts of violence. Knowing the signs can help prevent crimes and get people the help they need.

Vineyard said Reeves wouldn't talk about any efforts the school has made to ensure safety and didn't seem concerned. Other parents took to social media to complain about the lack of notification from the school. The mother of another child on the alleged hit list said her daughter was terrified and had been to school only once since March 21.

"As long as the school says they're doing everything they can and are taking steps, I'd feel better about sending them to school, but when they do nothing," Vineyard said, trailing off at the end. "This is serious. I don't think they're taking it as serious as they need to."

The email asked that parents discuss the threats with their children and emphasize the importance of reporting any comments, posts or photos that are "dark or violent in nature" and to make sure children know the seriousness of making threatening comments.

Reeves addressed the student body Tuesday morning, Segobiano said.

"It has been brought to my attention some of you are concerned about a Facebook post," Reeves said. "As with many things you read on social media, there were some inaccuracies. ... The security of all the students and staff in this building is of the utmost importance to me. I do not take that lightly. The fact is, there was a threat. Students brought that information to the office. The matter was investigated, and the student faces severe discipline for his comments."

A detective with the Columbia Police Department called Vineyard on March 21, alerting him to the situation. Vineyard kept his son home from school Thursday, as did the mother of a girl also mentioned on the list. Vineyard's son and the son's girlfriend, both of whom were named on the list, are stressed and anxious about the situation, Vineyard said.

"The student making the threat had a fairly detailed plan about it, where he talked about how the last mass shooting was not as effective as it could have been, that he would have used a different type of gun, that he would've come in during the lunch period," Vineyard said. "He had a list of people he would target."

Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul said police were notified Wednesday of inappropriate comments a student allegedly made. Investigators have been working with the district and high school, and the Monroe County state's attorney was notified and will be asked to review the information, Paul said. He said he could not comment further, as the investigation was still pending.

When the school didn't notify parents, Vineyard said, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He posted about the incident on Facebook, stripping out any details that might identify the student who allegedly made the threats.

He said he wanted to make sure no students were harmed.

"Everybody said great job in bringing it to our attention, but the adults haven't done anything about it," Vineyard said. "I thought at first I was overreacting, but I don't think you can overreact with a situation like this."