Juvenile arrested in connection with social media threat
A 17-year-old Gervais teen has been taken into custody after police investigated the credibility of a Thursday night Snapchat post threatening Woodburn and Gervais schools.
Marion County Sheriff's Office reports that the juvenile was taken into custody around 2:45 p.m. Friday.
Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris said Friday afternoon there was probable cause to arrest the individual, though he was not able to say what the charges were.
"A bogus threat can be considered a criminal offense," he pointed out. "We don't believe anyone was in danger at any time but the investigation is continuing."
The investigation began around midnight Feb. 23, when
the Woodburn Police Department was informed of a threat made against the Woodburn and Gervais school districts. The investigation, which was also conducted by Gervais police, led to authorities determining the incident was not a credible threat. School districts were notified around 6:30 a.m., and, although school remained in session that day, both districts increased their levels of security as additional officers were brought in to patrol campuses.
As the day progressed threats via social media continued to come to the WPD's attention.
A collaboration between officers and educators resulted in locating the youth responsible for the threats. He was located at his home in Gervais and detained without incident. During the arrest the Gervais School District was placed on a brief lockdown as a precaution. Early in the day, Gervais schools were on a temporary lock-out, in which no one was allowed to enter the campus without the principal's or law enforcement's permission. That restriction was lifted at 9:15 a.m.
Woodburn School District did not have such an order, but it addressed the incident that morning, as did Gervais, via autodialer, the website, social media and letters home to parents.
Despite assurances that students and staff were safe, Woodburn saw at least 50 percent of its students go home early as a safety precaution, Superintendent Chuck Ransom. That percentage was closer to 70 percent at the high school level, he said.
"There's a lot of emotion from the recent shooting (in Florida where 17 people were killed by a gunman at a high school), so people are really sensitive to how terrible that is and how a tragedy could come into our community," Ransom said. "I'm a parent and I know that if I felt a threat at all I'd want to keep my kid safe. That's what every parent should do."
Ferraris also pointed out that authorities do not take the threat to anyone's life — especially children — lightly.
"We try to give timely, transparent and factual information to the community," he said. "While we didn't believe there to be a threat, safety is our No. 1 concern and we do everything we can to ensure that. We have zero tolerance for threats against students and staff."
One encouraging piece of this incident is the speed with which students reported the social media post, Ransom said.
"Kids got that first Snapchat and began showing parents right away, and different parents reported it," he said. "This idea that kids would see something, know to report it and adults would know how to get to us, that was a positive in this situation."
"The cooperation of students has been outstanding," Ferraris echoed. "Kids are pretty smart and we need to make sure we give them the credit they deserve."
Anyone believing there is a threat to safety can report it to their school or police department, or on a 24-hour online safety reporting tool at www.safeoregon.com.