Centralia student said he wanted to be like Florida school shooter, police say

Centralia High School principal's call to parents

Listen to a the recording of Principal Reid Shipley sent to Centralia High School parents after a student was arrested for threatening to shoot a staff member.
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Listen to a the recording of Principal Reid Shipley sent to Centralia High School parents after a student was arrested for threatening to shoot a staff member.

Police arrested a Centralia teenager Tuesday after he reportedly said he wanted to be like Nikolas Cruz, the man accused in the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

Centralia Police Chief Brian Atchison said the school called police after the rumors were reported to the office.

"The officers said he had made reference that he was wanting to be like Cruz, the shooter at Parkland," Atchison said.

Based on that statement and reports from students who say they witnessed the statement, Atchison said they arrested the student and charged him with making a terrorist threat and disorderly conduct.

Atchison said when police searched the student's house, they did not find any evidence of weapons or a solid plan to act on the threat.

"But obviously we cannot tolerate people making those threats," he said.

According to a call made to parents by Principal Reid Shipley, a teacher went to the administration after hearing a rumor of the threat being discussed in the classroom.

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.

"After conversations with a few students, the rumor was verified to be a possible threat," Shipley said on the call. "Witnesses were able to positively identity the individual. The police made an arrest and the individual is in custody."

Shipley said the threat was made toward "a staff member and the school" and was "general in nature."

According to Shipley, a police search of the student's residence did not reveal any weapons, access to weapons or plans to carry out the threat.

"As most of you know, our students are our best informants of threats, drugs, harassment, etc.," the call continued. "Many times they are nothing but rumors. Other times we find out information and are able to avoid serious incidents."

Centralia High School Superintendent Chuck Lane said the 17-year-old student was in a classroom in a building separate from the main high school, an annex for students with behavioral disorders. The students in that building don't get suspended, Lane said, as it is a restrictive environment for them anyways.

If the student was released on bail, Lane said they would discuss the situation with all the parties to come up with a plan for what to do for schooling, and would follow what the court says.

Nina Watkins, whose son goes to school at CHS, said she was upset by the way the administration handled the threat. She said she was not notified until hours after the student was arrested when she got the robocall from Shipley around 5 p.m

Other parents, she said, did not receive the call until as late as 7:30 p.m.

"With everything going on, it's scary because it can happen anywhere, and you don’t know what's going to happen day to day," she said. "You can't be with yours kid 24/7. Home schooling is looking better and better every day."

But Lane said because this incident was not an emergency, they waited to make the call at 5 p.m. so that parents who worked would be alerted about what's going on. Many people have the alerts set up for their home phones, and the district typically doesn't send the alerts unless it's an emergency situation.

The student was not in the main building, Lane said, and administrators had to verify the rumors, get hold of police and question the student before action could be taken.

Watkins also said she was concerned that although school administrators heard rumors of the threat early in the morning, the student was not taken out of school until after police arrived around 11:15 a.m.

"I'm not sure why there was a delay in taking action on that. A lot of the kids didn't know anything was going on and to me that is a very scary situation," she said. "I think if they would have been on a lock down drill, the students would not have known there was an actual situation but at least the teachers would have been aware."

Watkins said coincidentally, that morning before her son went to school she had a conversation with him about what to do in a school shooting.

"I told him on the way to school, make sure you carry your school books with you because they could protect you from a bullet. That's not a conversation you want to have with your child on the way to school. And then to find out that was going on at the school... " she said, trailing off.

In the call to parents, Shipley encouraged students to continue reporting potentially harmful rumors or social media posts with school staff.

"We will continue to question and search anyone or anything on campus when we hear rumors or see social media posts that could potentially be harmful to our students," he said.

Kaley Johnson: 618-239-2526, @KaleyJohnson6