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Police, educators going on offensive after new threats against NH schools on social media

By RYAN O'CONNOR
Union Leader Correspondent

March 22. 2018 9:59AM




Pittsfield police are investigating a Facebook post they say was made by a student. (Facebook)

Even before a Tuesday social media threat against Pittsfield Middle/High School, Pittsfield School District Superintendent John Freeman said he and fellow administrators were reviewing and updating security plans.

Earlier in the day, in fact, Freeman said he was at a School Behavior Threat Assessment workshop hosted by the U.S. Department of Education.

Hanover police also dealt with a social media threat on Tuesday after an Instagram account was created titled “hanoverhighshooting.”

Police said that an invitation had been sent via Facebook to several Hanover High School students. An excerpt from the sending account said “... THIS IS FOR WHAT YOU’VE GIVEN ME FOR 2 YEARS STRAIGHT I GIVE NO MERCY IF I SEE YOU YOU GET SHOT. IT HAPPENS SOON.. MAYBE TODAY...”

Police announced Wednesday that a 14-year-old girl from Brantford, Ontario, had been arrested in connection with the scare. Police have been unable to establish a connection between the teen and Hanover High School.

In Pittsfield, a student used Facebook late Tuesday to post: “Whoever plans on shooting up a school next, please pick Pittsfield. Thank you.” The comment was followed by a halo/smiley face emoji.

The post has since been removed. Police and school administrators have temporarily banned the student from school grounds.

Pittsfield police officers and members of the Merrimack County Sheriff’s Department were on hand at both Pittsfield schools Wednesday morning.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve safety and to let parents and students know their safety is of the upmost importance to us,” Freeman said.

School administrators and police officers throughout the Granite State have been ramping up their student safety efforts since the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead.

“Anytime something like (the Parkland shooting) happens and makes the press, you get some copycats and some people making threats that are attention-seeking,” said New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police President Andy Shagoury.

Shagoury, who heads the Center Tuftonboro Police Department, said his department hasn’t been called in for any potential threats at local schools, but stressed the importance of taking all reports of potential violence seriously.

Merrimack incident

On Friday, Merrimack officials cancelled a high school assembly and dance due to vandalism and a potential threat ultimately deemed a false alarm.

“There was absolutely no evidence found to support the alleged threats that led to the postponing of the spirit assembly and dance, this after a thorough investigation by the Merrimack Police Department,” said Merrimack High School Principal Ken Johnson in a recorded message sent to Merrimack parents Monday.

“Part of the problem on Friday is that we had very little time to investigate the allegations,” he continued. “We must always take threats seriously, and so while working with the police, it was my decision to do what I will always do, place student safety first.”

Shagoury said police departments and school administrations throughout the state have been working with Homeland Security since the Newtown, Conn. shooting in December 2012, and are constantly reviewing and updating safety and security procedures.

“Most local departments are familiar with our schools, in terms of getting inside (to confront a threat),” said Shagoury, “but a lot of our planning revolves around children’s safety, having a safe assembly point for the kids, a casualty collection area, an area for reunification with parents so emergency operations aren’t interfered with ... these are the things we have to consider in our emergency response plans.”

Goffstown High assemblies

Goffstown Police Chief Robert Browne said he participated in two separate assemblies with Goffstown High School freshmen and sophomores on Wednesday.

“We wanted to have an open question-and-answer dialogue with students,” he said. “We wanted to hear their concerns and see what they felt was working and not.”

Browne said he and other officers often learn from students. However, he acknowledged the main purpose of the gatherings was to relate essential safety protocols such as “see something, hear something, read something, say something.”

“Today, we discussed what we do for training, how it has evolved since before they were all born and how we learn from each new event that happens to help make our response better,” said Browne. “But most importantly, we discussed that it is not just the police or the school faculty’s responsibility for safety, but everyone’s.

“We talked about how school shooting events often have precursors that are missed or overlooked. We talked about establishing communication and how important it is for school staff and first responders to be on the same page and equally as important for students to be able to reach out to someone when they have anything of concern.”

In addition, Browne said his department works with area schools to help run drills.

“Those will continue in hopes that we are best prepared for an emergency that we pray will never happen,” he said.


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