Threat deterred at Riverton schoolsMay 10, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen and Katie Roenigk, Staff Writers
Officials said they identified a person of interest Wednesday morning and brought him to the police department for questioning.
About half of the students in the Riverton school district stayed home from classes Wednesday after police became aware Tuesday evening of a "threat" against the district.
By Wednesday afternoon, Riverton Police Department interim chief Eric Murphy said his agency felt the initial threat had been deterred.
"Now it's really just trying to figure out who did it and why, and to try to stop it from happening again," he said.
The threat was made via a note found at Riverton High School. Murphy said the note indicated "there was going to be violence."
Fremont County School District 25 superintendent Terry Snyder was informed of the threat in the middle of Tuesday's school board meeting and met with police shortly after its conclusion. Murphy said the team developed safety plans throughout the evening then met again at 6 a.m. Wednesday for briefings.
At 7 a.m. Wednesday, Murphy said officers met with high school staff.
"We (showed them) the document ... to see if any of the staff recognized it," he said. "We came up with a student we felt confident was the main (person) who would've been involved."
The high school student in question was taken to the police department on Wednesday morning before school started.
"We went to the house and got him to the RPD on his own free will for questioning," Murphy said. "We've conducted search warrants on the house and his car and got the rest of his notebooks from school and we're still going through those as well as hours of video at the school."
No charges had been filed as of 1 p.m. Wednesday, as Murphy said the investigation is still ongoing, but Snyder believed the threat is "a crime."
"My true hope is that it ends up in an arrest and conviction," Snyder said.
Murphy said whoever wrote the note could be charged with making terroristic threats.
Both Snyder and the RPD put out statements Tuesday night informing parents that a "safety issue" had arisen but that schools would remain open as usual.
"By providing that information last night, we knew that some parents would decide to leave their kids home," Snyder said.
Students who did not attend school today would not be penalized, he added.
Some parents expressed frustration at the limited information that was provided, but Snyder said creating a "level of concern" is exactly the point.
"It does create nervousness and concern, and it should," he said.
He said that publicizing some information, but not all, sent a message to the suspect that "we are going to take it seriously and we are going to protect those kids."
"We don't want any individuals to think that they can turn it into some type of game -- regardless of who it is or their age," he said.
Snyder said the threat was determined to be more credible than others received this year that did not result in such a reaction.
He declined to provide the details of the threat that was made in the note.
"It potentially compromises the investigation to talk about the individuals involved and what exactly their intent is," he said.
Police, some armed with AR-15s, surrounded the schools in the district Wednesday, hoping to deter any possible attack. Murphy said seven officers were stationed at RHS, with two at Riverton Middle School and one at each elementary school in Riverton.
"When we found out our main person of interest was a high school student we focused most of our (attention) at the high school," he said, "but in an effort to (protect) public safety ... we decided to get an officer at every school just in case."
Two Wyoming Highway Patrol units and two Fremont County Sheriff's Office units were monitoring parks, parking lots and other areas surrounding local schools, too.
Snyder said if the district had not informed parents of the threat, it would have created a "high level of anxiety" when parents saw the increased police presence Wednesday.
He said the schools remained open because police believed they could "protect our kids," but wanted safety notices publicized to allow parents to make a "judgment call" about attendance.
Murphy said it was up to school officials to decide whether to remain open Wednesday, but he had to determine the amount of force required.
"I'm (considering) the safety of our children versus the reality of this really happening," he said. "Nobody likes to see cops in uniform with rifles in the school. ... but in the interest of public safety and the safety of our children I'm willing to cross that line and do that, even though it's not the most popular decision. And I feel pretty good about that."