Two local students arrested for shooting threats/pranks
In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that claimed the lives of 17 people on Valentine's Day, law officers in the area have made three arrests related to school shooting threats and pranks.
A 13-year-old Pryor Middle School student was charged Tuesday night with making a threat to kill or do bodily harm after he sent a Snapchat of an M4 assault rifle and stated in the social media post that "I would kill people, I wanna shoot a school and round 2 of Florida."
The boy said it was just a joke, he did not have any specific school in mind and did not mean anything by it, according to his arrest report. The suspect said he took the image of the weapon off Google images.
The Snapchat post was reportedly sent as a group post, but one of the receivers reported it.
Just days before, a man was arrested near Pryor for waving a BB gun just off campus. A parent picking up his child from school saw the man and alerted authorities.
On Wednesday a 16-year-old Milton High student knocked on a teacher's door and screamed "school shooter" three times. The teacher opened the door to find the student standing in the hallway, laughing. He was arrested for disturbing the peace.
"I make no apologizes for taking a zero tolerance approach for someone who intentionally disrupts our schools," Santa Rosa County School Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said. "It's intolerable. It's inappropriate and disrespectful to the school climate. There is a heightened sensitivity for students, parents and faculty members."
Okaloosa County Sheriff's Lt. Gary Venuti said his agency has doubled investigations since the shooting in Parkland on Feb. 14. Rich Aloy, spokesman for the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office, said they also have seen an increase.
"Prior to Parkland, as you know, we have investigated several social media threats, which resulted in students being arrested," Venuti said. "Since Parkland, there has been more awareness to social media posts, and therefore, more calls for service."
Walton County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Corey Dobridnia said as of Wednesday there have been no arrests or threats to any Walton County school. They do, however, investigate any reports about school shooting threats.
"We have a special victims unit that focuses on just cyber security," Dobridnia said."We track down every lead. We take it very seriously."
School district staffs in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties are also doing their part to heighten security measures, according to superintendents.
Okaloosa now has two school resource officers at each high school for the first time in about 10 years.
In addition, Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson announced plans to establish single point of entry for all schools. The costly endeavor would mean re-routing hallways, eliminating multiple access points, and adding security cameras and fences around the school grounds.
Jackson, according to Safety Specialist Andy Johnson, will also host a Student Leadership Safety Summit on March 14 to hear from children in student government and what safety measures they would like to see.
In Walton County, Superintendent Russell Hughes said his staff met with Sheriff's Office representatives to address safety measures that should be added. Hughes has been cautious to discuss specifics in an effort to protect students.
"It's just a very sensitive time right now, with copycats and that sort of thing," Hughes said. "We're just doing anything we can to make our children feel safe."
Wyrosdick said school district officials will meet with local law enforcement agencies Monday to brainstorm about school access points, mental health, student drills and emergency operations.
He said the schools already have begun to tighten up school access points by locking all but one door leading into the buildings.
Gov. Rick Scott also met with Florida law enforcement agencies, school administrators, teachers and mental health experts Tuesday to discuss school safety improvements and how to keep guns away from people who struggle with mental illness, according to a news release from his office.
Representatives from Northwest Florida attended the sessions.
Local students speak out
As survivors of the school shooting in Parkland rallied at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee on Wednesday, several local students shared their opinions and concerns about student safety.
Ally Woodard, a senior at Niceville High School, said she hopes the student outcry will prompt legislative changes in the coming months.
"I've talked about this with other kids, and we've agreed the resources that are being devoted to having additional SROs should be allocated to make actual change to the issue of gun violence," Woodard said. "This is a call of action with my generation, and I'm proud of the students in Parkland.
"I want guns to be less accessible for people who shouldn't have them. No automatic weapons. I can't really think of anyone who should have an automatic weapon on a daily basis except for military personnel."
Payton Morlan, also a senior at Niceville, said she believes stricter gun laws won't stop "crazy people" from getting a gun.
"If a person was wanting to do terrible things, I think they could get a hold of a gun on the black market," Morlan said. "I think mental illness is the key factor behind the shootings. I think it's the person behind the gun instead of the gun itself."
All the students, including Theresa LaNasa from Fort Walton Beach High School and Madison Peele from South Walton High School, said their schools have increased safety measures and spoke with them about what to do in an active-shooter situation.
"Administrators made an announcement for teachers to close their doors during class," LaNasa said. "It's really scary to think about. It's awful to have to worry about these things."
Threats across Florida
Police have arrested three people for making separate threats against other schools in Northwest Florida, leading to four campuses being locked down.
Two suspects are charged with felonies for making a false report concerning the use of firearms and for disrupting a school function. The third suspect is charged with a misdemeanor count of disrupting a school event.
Police said a 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday after a violent threat posted on social media that resulted in a lockdown at Booker T. Washington High School and two nearby schools in Pensacola.
Another incident involved a social medial post that police said was made by a 17-year-old. It involved Pensacola High School.
The third incident involved a report by a student that another student had a gun.
Also reported was the arrest of a teen who had his rifle confiscated after posting a threatening video online.
A Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office news release says 18-year-old Kane Watson was charged Monday with making threats to do bodily harm and making a false report. Officials did not say which school, if any, Watson attended or whether he named a specific target.
Investigators say Watson posted a video to Snapchat that showed a tactical rifle being removed from a case and loaded with a magazine. A caption with the video said, “Don’t go to school.”
Authorities say Watson admitted to posting the video, explaining that he did it to deal with stress through humor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.