What the boy wrote on the wall of a bathroom stall at the Russell County Middle School in Seale, Ala., was no casual joke to the authorities who had to investigate.
“School shooting September 23,” it read.
This was brought to the faculty’s attention about 11 a.m. Sept. 12, prompting an investigation that ended Wednesday with a male student’s arrest on a charge of terroristic threats, Sheriff Heath Taylor told reporters during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The offense is a Class C felony under Alabama law, though a juvenile is unlikely to be punished as an adult for that, Taylor said.
He said the boy was arrested at the school, and would be held overnight at a youth detention center in Opelika before a hearing Thursday in Russell County juvenile court.
The arrest demonstrates the sheriff’s office will not shrug off such threats: They will be treated as crimes and the instigators prosecuted, Taylor said.
Adults should get that message as well, he said: As the investigation continued, parents and others on social media spread unfounded rumors and lambasted authorities for not revealing more information, accusing them of not taking the threat seriously.
Taylor said officers probing accusations against a juvenile are limited on what they can reveal, under the law, and such investigations take time.
“You’re talking about a ton of students that had to be interviewed. You’re talking about a ton of faculty and staff that had to be interviewed,” he said. “So this was not something that could have been handled in a simple day’s time.”
He called the news conference not only to update the public, but to clear up some of the misinformation that circulated.
Among those addressing reporters were Superintendent Brenda Coley and Sheriff’s Lt. Lon Russell, who headed the investigation.
“I want to assure parents and the community that our district leadership is as concerned as you are about the safety of the children we serve,” Coley said. “Many of us have kids or loved ones in the school district.”
Said Russell, the school district’s safety director: “Based on the investigation conducted by myself and the school resource officers, there is no evidence to support that our students are in danger of a school shooting. Let me dispel the rumors that there have been any weapons have been found on campus: There have not been any weapons found on campus.”
Added Taylor: “There were no weapons in the home of the student who wrote this. He had no access to any weapons from his home or his parents.”
So no students were ever at risk, Taylor said: “From the perspective of the Russell County Sheriff’s Office, and the Russell County School District, none of our kids’ safety was ever in jeopardy, in our opinion.”
The juvenile’s identity was withheld, as required by law. Taylor also declined to give the boy’s age.
He said the child was not fully cooperative when they questioned him: “He has not confessed.”