Police Fielding More Reported Threats to Schools After Parkland Shooting

The February 14 school shooting at this Florida high school has led to an increase in reported threats against Arizona schools, according to police.
The February 14 school shooting at this Florida high school has led to an increase in reported threats against Arizona schools, according to police. Wikimedia Commons/Miami New Times
Police departments in metro Phoenix are seeing an uptick in the number of reported threats to schools during the two weeks following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Most departments described the increase as a noticeable bump, which follows heightened awareness of school shootings in the aftermath of Florida's tragedy. A gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, killing 17 people, most of them students.

Often, someone sees something on social media that looks like a threat against a school or student, then they pick up the phone or use the anonymous tipline Silent Witness to inform the police.

"Anecdotally, we have seen a rise in the number of reports, including duplicate reports from the same threat," Phoenix Police Department spokesperson Jonathan Howard wrote in an email.

It's also possible that people are making threats of a copycat style after the Florida school shooting. Law enforcement couldn't say if copycat threats — either legitimate or from attention-seekers — were behind the increase rather than heightened awareness, but Howard said that it could be a combination.

"We tend to see an increase toward the end of school years anyways, but the increased awareness causes some to revel in the disruption it can cause and others to step up more frequently to 'see something, say something,'" Howard wrote.

As for Tempe, police department spokesperson Ronald Elcock couldn't immediately point to the number of threats the department has received. However, he said that there's been an increase of threats against schools as well against students since the Parkland massacre.

"This increase is due to the FL shooting however, parents, students, and faculty have a heightened sense of awareness to social media," Elcock wrote in an email. "Many of our calls come from someone noticing something of concern on social media."

Based on media reports, it certainly seems like Phoenix residents have responded to the news of the massacre by paying close attention to potential threats against schools. Police have responded to a string of threats against Phoenix-area schools just in the last few days.

Monday, police arrested 20-year-old Christopher Michael Rodriguez Mendez after he wrote on Facebook that he was going to "shoot up" South Pointe High School. Mendez, a Phoenix resident, was not a student at South Pointe, and classes took place as usual on Monday.

Apparently, police received a huge number of calls related to the Facebook post, according to court records obtained by the Arizona Republic — more than 1,020 concerned people informed the cops.

On Sunday, Gilbert police sent officers to San Tan Elementary School to investigate an online threat out of an abundance of caution. And last Thursday, St. Mary's Catholic High School in Phoenix cancelled classes after a threat was made against one of its students.

Scares are happening outside of the Phoenix metro area, too. All classes and events were cancelled at a Yuma high school today when parents alerted police to a threatening post on Snapchat.

There also have been several arrests after the Parkland shooting when police discovered a student had a firearm in their possession on school grounds.

Two arrests of high school students, one at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale and the other at Sierra Linda High School, took place on the same day. On February 15, Phoenix police arrested the Sierra Linda student who brought a gun to school after receiving a tip from another student. In Scottsdale, police found a loaded handgun in the Chaparral student's car after school administrators brought it to their attention.

So while no one seems to be panicking, people definitely are on high alert for threats broadcast over social media — not to mention the unsettling idea of students bringing weapons with them to school. Elcock of the Tempe Police Department encouraged people with any knowledge of a threat to bring it to the cops right away.

"We want our families to report anything that may seem suspicious to them so our detectives can immediately begin to investigate," Elcock wrote.
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty