By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — A few weeks ago, an epidemic struck the Chippewa Valley of threats being made at schools.
A bomb threat at Eau Claire North High School November 16 was the fifth such threat over the previous eight days.
Threats also were made at Memorial High School in Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls Senior High School in Chippewa Falls, Menomonie High School and DeLong Middle School in Eau Claire.
[emember_protected] A note that read “I’m going to shoot up this (expletive) school” was found in the girls’ bathroom at Menomonie High School.
The first threat at Eau Claire Memorial stated, “Get your students out B4 I kill them.” And, “if you don’t they will die! I have a bomb and a loaded gun.” And, “I’m hiding somewhere. You have until lunch to get them out.”
Some of the perpetrators have been identified and include a 12-year-old girl, a 15-year-old girl, and two high school sophomores, a boy and a girl.
Considering the multiple threats, administrators in the Colfax school district decided it would be beneficial to have local law enforcement officers speak to the students about the consequences of making such threats.
Officers from the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department and the Colfax Police Department came to Colfax High School for a student assembly on Thursday, November 16.
“If we have that situation here, yes, we call law enforcement. We call everybody we can to help us make sure everybody in the building is safe,” said Colfax High School Principal John Dachel.
“Think before you act. Whether you are the person intending to do it, whether it’s a joke or a dare or whatever it may be, or you are the person that finds it … we want to you think before you act,” he said.
“We want you to be able to make good decisions. If you know something, tell somebody … tell any adult in the building. A janitor. Bus driver. Teacher. Anybody in the building. Secondly, you can come to the high school office, the middle school office or the elementary office and let us know right away. And the last thing is, do not use social media,” Dachel said.
“If you find it, we do not want you taking a picture of it and sending it out to anybody and everybody. A lot of times, your parents may get that text or notification, and they’re going to want to come to the school immediately,” he said.
“If it is an actual threat, then you are putting them in danger as well. We don’t want to put anybody else in danger,” Dachel said.
“Our district has plans for any of these situations, and we follow those plans for your safety, and for everybody in our community. Because if everybody texts their parents, and they come over here, and we’ve got an active shooter, that’s not a good thing. Please try to follow these guidelines,” he said.
“We take it seriously and so do local and county law enforcement. We don’t want any situations to come up in any school district. But I do not want it to come here because it’s a copy cat. Somebody in another school did it, so I’m going to do it here. That’s not the right thing to do,” Dachel said.
“The good news is, we are just here to talk to you. There is not an issue that we are aware of, and that’s great,” said Deputy Rod Dicus with the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputy Discus is the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) instructor for Dunn County, so most of the students know him quite well.
The law enforcement officers also did a similar presentation at Elk Mound High School the day before.
“Social media. I talked about it in fifth and in seventh … whatever you put on, whatever you send, we’re going to find it. If you see someone else post something like that, do not respond to it,” he said.
Making comments or “liking” a post that contains a threat will cause law enforcement to spend more time investigating and also may prompt officers to think the student who “liked” the post had something to do with it, Deputy Dicus noted.
“We will find out who it is. Before you push that send button, remember that,” he said.
Students also should not be thinking threats are a good way to get out of school, Deputy Dicus said.
“The protocol is, you are going to stay here in school. If you think you’re going to get of school or miss a day of school, I believe that will get made up somewhere, somehow. And if you’re seniors, there are ways they can have you come back and spend a day. That idea of getting out of school doesn’t really work,” he said.
“We can talk to you all day, but you are the ones who are going to see and hear the information. Empower yourselves. If you hear something, say something,” Deputy Dicus said.
No more hunting
Deputy Dicus asked for a show of hands of how many students, aged sixth grade to twelfth grade at the assembly, go hunting.
A number of hands went up in the audience. The opening of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer hunting season was two days away at the time of the assembly.
“You get tied to something like this, you get a felony (conviction) all of that’s gone. No more rights to go hunting. Don’t get caught up in something. You guys have done nothing wrong. You represent (Colfax) well. Keep doing what you are doing,” Deputy Dicus said.
People convicted of a felony are no longer allowed to own, possess or use a firearm.
Sergeant Richard Day with the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department spoke about the charges Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls students are facing.
One student is charged with creating a bomb scare, which is a Class I felony, and if convicted, the student faces up to a $10,000 fine and/or 3.5 years in prison, he said.
“Can you imagine at 16, 17 or 18 years old being in prison for three years three-and-half-years? That’s a scary thought,” Sergeant Day said.
In 2015, another law was passed related to making “terrorist threats.” A felony conviction of making terrorist threats is punishable by up to a $25,000 fine and/or 10 years in prison, he said.
“There are a lot of consequences … as a young individual, these decisions will have an effect on the rest of your life,” Sergeant Day said.
“Employers will look at your criminal record. Do you think an employer wants somebody working for them who has been (convicted) of terrorist threats? I highly doubt it. These decisions will affect the rest of your life. They will affect your friends. They will affect your family,” he said.
“As Deputy Dicus said, be sure, if you’re seeing something or hearing something, you need to tell someone. We have a Crimestoppers program in the sheriff’s office. Google it. There are lots of ways you can submit tips. Texts. E-mails. Calls. Anonymously. Be sure you are telling someone. Tell your teachers. Tell your parents. Make sure the information gets shared with an adult,” Sergeant Day said.
“And think about this. If it was something at the elementary school, they’ve got little kids, and they’ve got to get a hold of their parents. That affects those kids a little more, I think, and longer,” Deputy Dicus said.
“We don’t want it to happen (at Colfax) and that’s why we’re all here,” he said.
The presence of the law enforcement officers was a positive for the school district, Dachel said.
“This shows the importance that they want everyone to stay safe. They want everyone to make great decisions,” he said.
“We want to empower everyone. You are empowered through knowledge, in knowing what you need to do in each situation and also knowing sometimes what the ramifications are,” Dachel said.
“You have all known Officer Discus for a long time. So you know he cares. Please understand what you need to do and how you need to handle each situation because they are important,” he said.
And that comment about not getting out of school?
Deputy Dicus was right.
“If we had a situation like that here, would we send you home? No. Sorry. We’ll have a place for you. Will we make up the day? There’s a good chance of that. Will the seniors have to come back after graduation? Possibly. So keep those things in mind. And keep our school safe,” Dachel said.
“We are all very proud of what you guys do each and every day. We want to keep that going. We’re not saying the threat is here. We are empowering you to know what to do if that crosses our path,” he said.
After the students had been dismissed from the assembly, the law enforcement officers and administrators in the Colfax school district took a few minutes to talk to the Colfax Messenger.
“It was good to emphasize that they haven’t done anything wrong. That’s what I was going to say — you haven’t done anything wrong,” said Dunn County Sheriff Dennis Smith.
The cost for responding to a threat at a school would vary, depending on the situation, he said.
“Something like this would cost us daily wages (for sheriff’s department personnel). A couple of thousand dollars and time lost doing something else,” Sheriff Smith said.
“It depends on how extensive it is, too. If you think it’s legit, you might have to call in a bomb squad and get dogs running through here. You’ve got to wait several hours for them to get here,” said Colfax Police Chief William Anderson.
“That stuff is really expensive. You can spend $10,000 fast. But with an active shooter, you’d probably spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars. But whatever it takes. We’ll be coming,” Sheriff Smith said.
“It’s one of those things nobody thinks is going to happen here. But there’s all the schools and businesses where it has happened. And they probably thought the same thing: that it would never happen there,” Sheriff Smith said.
“We’re lucky we have a good culture around here with the community and law enforcement. But you never know. One person can get something in their head that something happened that was wrong and they want to get even. We’re sitting pretty good here, and we hope nothing like that will happen. We’re glad the schools are inviting us in,” Sheriff Smith said.
Deputy Dicus, the sheriff noted, has an outstanding rapport with the students.
“I have debated with the county a number of times about DARE. It gets the officer into school, and it lets the kids get to know the officer and spend time with him. They get to know who he is. They like him. They see Deputy Dicus at the fair, and he’s getting hugs all day,” Sheriff Smith said.
In fact, Deputy Dicus was the recipient of a number of hugs from students at Colfax High School.
Other costs are associated with responding to threats, too.
“Think of all the extra added training we’re doing here to deal with all the different scenarios that could happen. It has taken quite a lot of time away from things that are right in front of us that need to be done. We have to do a lot to prepare,” Sheriff Smith said.
“I don’t know if Eau Claire and Chippewa are running around to all of their schools to try to nip it in the bud, but I hope they are,” Police Chief Anderson said.
“Elk Mound and Colfax are ahead of the game. They’re the first ones to bring us in,” Sergeant Day said.
“We thought 20 minutes now would be time well spent,” said William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator for the School District of Colfax.
And for some of the students in the audience, the idea they would lose their ability to own a firearm if convicted of a felony and would be unable to go hunting, “was way high on their priority list,” Sheriff Smith said.
“It means a lot to have law enforcement here. We can say it. And they listen. But you get a little more effect with you gentlemen here,” Yingst said.
“They trust Rod (Dicus) and they like Rod, and they listen to him,” Sheriff Smith said.
Sheriff Smith was quite complimentary on the changes to make the entry to Colfax High School more secure.
Improving safety and security was among the projects funded by the $7.2 million referendum approved by voters in November of 2016.
Construction was completed during the summer of 2017 and included a new high school office with a new entry that allows the doors to the school to be locked. People are admitted through the high school office before gaining access to the remainder of the building.
The elementary school entrance was improved as well with the same security measures. Visitors must ask for admittance to the locked outside doors and then are required to enter the school through the office.
There was an instance years ago when a person working at a school saw someone carrying a gun across the parking lot but had no way to stop that person because there was no way to quickly lock the doors, Sheriff Smith said.
“We have it set up, too, that if the secretary (in the front office) sees something, she flips a switch and all the doors to our hallways, the doors to get to any of the kids, all shut and lock,” Dachel said.
The doors are the full width of the hallway, and when they are open, they are hardly noticeable, but when they close, they close off the hallway, Yingst said.
“It’s sad that we’ve got to do this,” Sheriff Smith said.
For the first 30 years of his law enforcement career, no one thought about security for schools, “but the last 10 years has been crazy,” Sheriff Smith said. [/emember_protected]