ELKHART — Local police and school officials are continuing to work at securing local schools in response to a threat made in January that was said would occur this coming Monday, April 15.
The Elkhart Police Department released information Monday, April 8, that an anonymous threat had been made to schools in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties from an unknown person, threatening to “kill 20 kids in five different schools” on Monday.
Lt. Matthew Blank of the St. Joseph County Police Department said the threat was found in Elkhart County sometime in mid-January. Without giving more specifics about how the threat was made, he compared it to a scribble made on a bathroom stall.
According to Elkhart Police, the threat mentioned schools in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties, though no specific schools were mentioned.
“This has our attention, as I think is true for every school in Elkhart County,” said Doug Hasler, executive director of support services for Elkhart Community Schools.
The school system has protocols in place for responding to a variety of situations, including bomb threats and threats such as the one being investigated now, he said.
“We're doing everything we can to make sure that (the threat) doesn't become a reality,” Hasler said. “We think we have a safe school day in and day out, but, in light of this, are working to make our schools even safer so that on Monday, April 15, our schools are as safe as possible.”
According to the Elkhart Police Department's release sent out Monday, April 8, Elkhart police are working with Elkhart Community Schools and have been in contact with Elkhart private schools. Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers said in a statement Tuesday that the Sheriff's Department will increase its presence at area schools and is strategically planning deputies' responses to the anonymous threat.
Hasler said that whenever there is a threat to a school's safety, Elkhart Schools administrators work closely with Elkhart Police to investigate the matter. Usually, once an administrator learns of a threat, the school system contacts police. In this case, Hasler said, the threat was not made on school property, so that the police department learned about it first and contacted school officials.
“We've got a good relationship and good communication with local law enforcement — and that's communication both ways,” he said.
Hasler also said that they work with local law enforcement to determine when and if to alert parents to a threat, since, in most cases, threats turn out to be baseless.
A letter will be going home with students at every Elkhart Community Schools building Wednesday, he said.
Amanda Batts and Amber Cleveland had just been discussing the situation before arriving together at Woodland Elementary to pick up their kids from school Tuesday afternoon.
“I'm not concerned,” Batts said. Cleveland agreed.
Both listed a few of the security aspects of the school — a security camera, the check-in system, how the school sent home a letter to parents after the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary to let parents know how Woodland is handling the situation.
Cleveland also said that she's talked with her second-grade daughter about the drills the school has them do for different threatening situations.
“They know where they're supposed to be if something happens,” she said.
Phyllis Clark was outside Woodland to pick up her granddaughter, as she does every day.
“Her mom doesn't plan on sending her to school on Monday,” Clark said. “It's so sad.”
Clark said her two kids grew up in Elkhart, went to Woodland Elementary, then West Side Middle School and then Memorial High School. There were threats then too, she said, and people kept their kids home.
“I imagine that they're as safe here as at any other elementary school,” she said.
Traci Walker, another mother waiting outside Woodland Tuesday afternoon, still wasn't sure what to do about the situation.
“I want to send them, but at the same time,” she said about her two kids, “but I'm really scared. I wouldn't want something to happen.”
Some parents were also upset that they had learned about the situation from local media and not from the school system.
Information about the threat has come out in the midst of already intense discussion between groups about gun control and armed officers in schools.
Anyone with any information can contact the Elkhart Police Department at 389-4777.
Reporter Sharon Hernandez contributed to this report.