‘Not a drill’ – Threats against schools draw a massive police response in Decatur
By Dan Whisenhunt and Cathi Harris
It started on Tuesday, Nov. 27, around 11 a.m.
Phones began buzzing.
Parents with kids in Renfroe Middle and Decatur High received text messages that would concern anyone: their schools were on lock down. They weren’t sure why.
Within an hour, police confirmed that all schools were on lock down due to threats against three schools. Oakhurst Elementary and Winnona Park Elementary received a call from someone threatening to open fire on the school. Glennwood Elementary received a call that there was a bomb.
Police would later say that the threats were unsubstantiated. But real or not, police and school officials took the threats seriously.
Decatur and DeKalb County Police officers and the sheriff’s deputies descended on the city, the sheriffs deputies armed with long guns as they searched the grounds of Renfroe Middle.
Police blocked off East Ponce de Leon Avenue at Commerce Drive while they searched for bombs at Glennwood after the students had been evacuated to another location.
Glennwood parent Carolyn Torres-Mabe got a text from her stepdaughter at Renfroe Middle School saying that they were on lock down and asking her if the kids at Glennwood were OK, she says.
“I immediately came down here and they didn’t have the cones set up yet, but the police were here,” she says, gesturing to the DeKalb Sheriff’s Office deputies securing the street. “They shooed me back up this way nicely when I started asking questions and told me that the kids … were safe.”
Another officer told her that there had been a bomb threat at Glennwood and that “it was not a drill,” she said.
As parents waited for more information, police completed their search of the school and cleared the students to return. They were carefully led back into Glennwood which, like the other city schools, remained on lock down the rest of the day.
Kevin Matthews, another Glennwood parent, hoped that the incident would spur the district to consider a better system for keeping parents informed about emergency events.
“Like a real-time, text-based alert system. The federal government does this. Several universities do this as well,” he said. “It could be used in situations where they are planning a drill or when there is another kind of event. That would give parents the latest information.”
Eventually, Glennwood students were allowed to return to class, but the lock down remained in effect throughout the school system until dismissal. Early check outs were not allowed. City Schools of Decatur cancelled all after school activities.
Decatur Police released additional details about the incident on Thursday evening. In a statement, police said they cannot divulge all details about the threats being made because it is an active investigation. Here is the full statement, provided by Lt. Jennifer Ross:
On Tuesday, November 27, 2018, Decatur Police received reports of a bomb threat and threats of gun violence made against three elementary schools in the City of Decatur. The threats involved Glennwood Elementary School, Oakhurst Elementary School and Winnona Park Elementary School. Officers responded to the three schools involved as well as all other CSD schools. Working with City Schools of Decatur, a system-wide lock down of all schools was initiated until dismissal as a precautionary measure. DeKalb County Police and DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office personnel also responded to assist.
We are actively investigating these threats and looking at any similarities between today’s threats and similar incidents that have recently occurred in the Metro-Atlanta area. While we found no evidence to substantiate today’s threats, we must and will take any and all threats to the schools, your children and our community seriously and investigate such threats thoroughly. We have to look at all of the possibilities and follow up on any potential leads to try to determine if threats are legitimate, if they are pranks or “Swatting” and to find the source or origin. We cannot provide all of the details of ongoing investigations as doing so can compromise an investigation and negatively impact potential prosecution.
We understand that threats made against schools, against children are terrifying. Many of the officers serving Decatur are also parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. We understand that school lock downs, alerts, seeing your child’s school on the news and seeing news helicopters hovering overhead is alarming and that parents feel helpless and vulnerable. The threats are doing exactly what they are intended to do. They are instilling fear and provoking panic and anxiety. Please know that we will run into the schools and to your children to keep them safe.
Officers will be patrolling the schools throughout the city through the end of this week. We will re-evaluate after investigators have an opportunity to follow up on potential leads. We will provide updates if and when suspects are identified, arrested or we have additional information that can be released.
We would also like to say you are most welcome and extend our appreciation for all of the parents and community members who have sent or posted messages thanking the officers today.
– Lt. Jennifer S. Ross
Decatur Police Department