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UPDATED: Sonoma student arrested for gun threat to high school

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Tip hotline

A confidential Text-A-Tip hotline - 707-939-5541 - is monitored on a regular basis by the SVHS school resource officer (police) and school administration.

A Sonoma Valley High School student’s threatening social media post has led to the arrest of the student and an unsettling few days for students and families in the high school community.

A Snapchat post was disseminated Wednesday to several students around midday warning of a “school shooter threat” at the high school on Friday, March 1. It urged “Don’t go!” and “For all sonoma (sic) high, do not come to school March 1st – this Friday. Teachers are not doing anything – no joke.” At the bottom of the screen in two red rectangles it said “why I find this hella funny thooooo” followed by a laughing emoji. The threat was quickly brought to the attention of school staff, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, and the school’s on-campus resource deputy began investigating the incident.

After interviewing several students, the suspect who had sent the post was identified as a student of SVHS. The 16-year-old boy was arrested on charges of making criminal threats, a felony, and making a false report of emergency. The suspect was booked into custody at Juvenile Hall, said Sgt. Spencer Crum, spokesperson for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Even though police said they do not consider the threat to be “viable,” and they are still investigating the case, Sonoma Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez said they are taking it seriously and, to underscore that, placed four additional deputies at the school on Thursday and said “extra patrol” will continue to make a presence on Friday and Monday.

“We want to show that this is no joke, even if (the post) was meant as a joke,” Rodriguez said.

He said that the 1999 Columbine school shootings changed the way law enforcement and schools react to threats, and mass shootings at schools and other public places compel them to be even more vigilant.

Just last week, a Sonoma County Sheriff’s officer arrested a 12-year-old Altimira Middle School student for making criminal threats involving a gun to harm other students.

“We don’t want kids to go on a trend” and post or say things as “a joke or a hoax,” Rodriguez said. The incident has made students, staff and parents anxious.

“We talked about this a lot in school (Thursday),” said Walt Williams, a teacher at Creekside High School, which shares the SVHS campus. “Everyone seems a bit on edge. I had planned to take Friday off and I have changed my plans so I can be on campus.”

Parent Vanessa Rognlien said it would be “foolish” not to be concerned.

“I discussed this incident and others with my kids last night,” said Rognlien. “It is surprising to me that in some ways school violence is such a norm to them but they are also very anxious and worried about it. How can kids learn with these threats hanging over them?”

Rognlien said her children “expressed some worry about whether to go to school” the next day, and they decided the school administration and law enforcement “is fully engaged in keeping our kids safe. They are working with these threats looming over them, too,” she said.

A joint statement from Rodriguez and Socorro Shiels, superintendent of Sonoma Valley Unified School District, said, “This type of incident instills fear in students, staff, family members and our entire community.”

Tip hotline

A confidential Text-A-Tip hotline - 707-939-5541 - is monitored on a regular basis by the SVHS school resource officer (police) and school administration.

High school senior Ava Rognlien said, “I think that there is a lot of fear among students especially with the normalization of gun violence across the nation. It is a wakeup call that we are not immune to gun violence.

“Personally I feel better knowing there are police and administrators handling the problem, because if there was a real threat we wouldn’t be at school the next few days.”

Another student who asked not to be identified said that “a lot of students” planned to not go to school on March 1, and that the student who was arrested “was just warning others of a threat he had heard.”

In a message to the school community following the incident, Sonoma Valley High School Principal Justin Mori applauded the students and teachers who immediately reported the information.

In the message, Mori reminded school community members to “report posts such as these immediately and assist us by not spreading rumors or fear.”

The Rodriguez-Shiels joint message expressed thanks to those who “saw something, said something,” in a nod to the “Say Something” program that stemmed from the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. In a bit of irony, the week of Feb. 25 through March 1 is National Say Something Week.

Mori urged students to use the school confidential tip line or speak with any adult on campus in the event they learn of rumored threats to school safety.

As to the student suspected in the Feb. 27 threat, Mori said, “Appropriate discipline/consequences will occur from both a law enforcement and school perspective to ensure the safety of our school campus.”

Email Anne at anne.ernst@sonomanews.com.

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