GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Schools all over metro Atlanta are dealing with an increase in threats, and it's leading one district to step up security in the midst of celebration.
Brookwood High School in Snellville hosted homecoming Friday. Along with the excitement came a slight feeling of concern for some parents and students. The school had a threat made against it recently.
School officials responded by having eight school resource officers at the football game, along with at least a dozen administrators monitoring the crowd and surrounding areas. The school also strictly enforced a clear bag policy. Brookwood is set to boost security measures for the Homecoming dance Saturday as well.
"We have identified the student determined to be responsible for the threat," Brookwood principal Brett Savage said in a letter. "Appropriate disciplinary action is being taken. Threatening students and staff, sparking fear, and disrupting teaching and learning will not be tolerated. I sincerely thank the parents, staff, and students who cooperated with us during our investigation and provided information that was helpful in our search. Your partnership made the difference."
“The FBI is aware of threats made locally and across the country towards schools," a statement read. "The FBI takes all threats seriously, and as always, we remain in contact with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to gather, share, and act upon threat information as it comes to our attention. We urge the public to remain vigilant, and report any and all suspicious activity and/or individuals to law enforcement immediately.”
Metro Atlanta school leaders blame a copycat culture on social media for the rise in school threat cases. Ronald Applin, Chief of Police with Atlanta Public Schools, said stopping them involves everyone speaking up when they see something suspicious.
“If you see a threat, let us know so we can get ahead of it," Applin said. "Any information you see on Instagram or whatever it is, if you can get all the info on that post and we get that information, that’s going to make a big difference in us determining who the originator of the information is.”
Applin said the school district was able to identify most of the perpetrators of these threats, which he had noted had increased to a weekly basis. He said the district recently updated its discipline code to address suspension and expulsion punishments for those who make school threats.
"We put out all the stops to figure out who the originator is of the threat, try to determine whether or not it’s valid," Applin said. "We’re looking at a multitude of things to make sure our students are safe. We can’t take any chances.”
Meg Strickler, a criminal defense attorney familiar with school threat cases, told 11Alive those found guilty could potentially face criminal charges at the state and federal level that range from misdemeanors to felonies.
"At a minimum, it’s a misdemeanor disrupting public schools," Strickler said. "It can be a felony of terroristic threats. It can be a federal charge of terrorism, and all of them will cause massive headaches to the person carrying the threats and doing these threats. Your life is going to look a lot different if you try and do one of these pranks. You’re going to get kicked out of school, and you’ll probably be charged with something – which will affect your future.”
More security is in place at Clayton County Public Schools as well, after the district said multiple online threats were made toward several schools this week. Parents and students were on high alert Thursday at Lovejoy High School.
Superintendent Dr. Morcease Beasley tweeted, "We are taking every measure to protect schools while identifying persons doing the threats."
This year, Fulton County Schools are installing alarms at all its schools, and the district is installing Flock safety cameras, which are tied to national databases, to detect potential threats in real time.
While not every threat may play out in reality, it doesn't stop law enforcement from acting to shut them down.
“We would rather have a boy cry wolf, cry wolf, cry wolf and react than to ignore it," Strickler said. "We do all these drills because we want to be prepared. So if someone calls something in, we’re going to take it seriously. We’re going to shut everything down, evacuate everybody, call law enforcement in, and it’s going to cost taxpayers money to respond to this. It’s going to cause a lot of anxiety by all the people at the school.”