Mat-Su residents respond to threats of school violence as Columbine anniversary nears
This coming Saturday marks 20 years since the Columbine High School shooting, and two decades later with no real policy changes having been made since, gun violence remains a prevalent threat in U.S. schools, including right here in Alaska.
On Wednesday, the Mat-Su Borough School District dealt with a threat of gun violence directed at both Colony High School and Colony Middle School. It started when students and parents repeatedly shared the original warning of a threat on social media. The following photo is a screen shot from the Snapchat of an individual who received the warning, who wishes to remain anonymous:
School officials received a tip from concerned parents regarding the potential threat to student safety late Tuesday night, according to Executive Director of Instruction Reese Everett. He said his first call was to Alaska State Troopers, followed by an email informing all Colony parents and staff of the potential threat, which has since been deemed not credible.
“We have a standardized crisis response protocol that we follow, and it’s a process, and we have that protocol in place for unfortunate situations like this,” Everett said.
That protocol involves coordinating with local law enforcement to confirm the validity of the threat, and in this case stationing Troopers at the schools as added security.
Reese said the district’s response to the threat followed protocol recommendations from the U. S. Secret Service. According to the MSBSD Annual Report on Keeping Schools safe, last year district schools received training based on a Secret Service report on best practices to follow in life-threatening situations, like an active shooter scenario.
“It's a very hot button issue, and an unfortunate part of education in the 21st century,” he said. “I think anyone in public education knows that we're approaching the anniversary of Columbine.”
Jodie Vasquez, a mother of two Colony students, read the email the district sent out to parents aloud to Channel 2 on Wednesday, while parked on the curb outside Colony High School waiting to pick up her freshman son.
"Good morning Colony families. Late last night, we received notification of a social media post that alerted students not to attend school today. The post indicated there would be a school shooting on both middle and high school campuses. There is no evidence at this point to suggest that this threat is true. School is open today (Wednesday). Law enforcement has been notified, and will be a visible presence on campus.”
Vasquez checked in with her younger son, a seventh grader at Colony Middle, shortly after dropping him off for school. “My son actually texted me earlier and said ‘Mom, the school is empty, but there’s a lot of police here.’”
Vasquez said while some parents kept their students home for the day, she decided to place her trust in the Alaska State Troopers and the school district, rather than let fear win the day.
"You can't feed that beast. You can't put fear into people like that,” she said. “And then, if we all didn't send our kids to school, everyone suffers."
Late Tuesday night, parents and students at Colony Middle and High schools received a shocking warning of a shooting threat that would happen on Wednesday.
The information came in the form of a social media post. Someone took a screenshot of the warning, which had been typed out on Snapchat, reading verbatim “Anyone that goes to colony high or colony middle PLS DO NOT GO TO SCHOOL TOMORROW THERE WILL BE A SCHOOL SHOOTING!!!”
According to the Mat-Su Borough School District, parents forwarded the information to school officials, who then notified Alaska State Troopers. Troopers were stationed as added security at both schools, from before the start of the school day to the final bell.
Although some parents elected to keep their children at home on Wednesday, AST confirmed the situation was contained and “the general threat was not imminent in nature.”