Investigation into Skyline threat continues as attendance drops elsewhere
September 20, 2012
UPDATED — 5 p.m. Sept. 20, 2012
Police continue to investigate a shooting threat against students at Skyline High School, as attendance at other Issaquah School District campuses — particularly Sammamish Plateau schools near Skyline — declined Thursday.
District administrators announced a decision late Wednesday to close Skyline after a threat made online targeted the school for a mass shooting. The district kept all other schools open.
Skyline also canceled all extracurricular activities and school athletics events scheduled for Thursday.
Sammamish Police Administrative Sgt. Jessica Sullivan said police continue to follow several leads on the identity of the user behind the threat posted Wednesday on the online bulletin board 4chan. Investigators have not yet been able to determine if the user is a Skyline student.
Sullivan said the FBI contacted 4chan and is working to trace the user’s IP address in order to learn the person’s identity.
In the post, the user outlined plans to take his or her father’s Erma sub-machine gun and “open fire on the people in the commons” until law enforcement officers killed the shooter, or until he or she ran out of ammunition.
The post also included a photo of purporting to show the Erma sub-machine gun.
In a news conference at Sammamish City Hall late Thursday afternoon, King County Sheriff Steve Strachan said the photo used in the post is similar to stock art and is familiar to law enforcement.
Early Thursday afternoon, Sullivan said the FBI had traced the post to a proxy server in Sweden — a common technique among computer users seeking to mask their identities.
The post made a specific reference to “jocks” as “the biggest offender” and also said “the people at that school use their wealth and social status to act superior to others.”
King County Sheriff’s Office investigators received more than 100 phone calls late Wednesday from people who saw the post — including callers from Canada and as far away as Pennsylvania, Sullivan said.
“The public involvement on this has been outstanding,” she added. “It’s great that people that far away care enough to say something.”
Investigators encouraged people with information about the post to call the sheriff’s office.
“We need the community’s help on this,” Sullivan said. “If anyone has any idea who might be responsible or who possesses a weapon like that, give us a call.”
What to know
People with information about the online threat against Skyline High School can call the King County Sheriff’s Office at 206-296-3311.
Eastlake High School — in the neighboring Lake Washington School District but about a mile north from Skyline along 228th Avenue — took precautions Thursday, although no other high schools in the area received threats.
Eastlake administrators locked all doors except the main entrance, Lake Washington School District spokeswoman Kathryn Reith said. Students can exit through any door, but cannot enter the building except through the main entrance.
“School is going on as normal, but they’re making sure they keep a close eye on who is going in and out of the school,” Reith said.
Issaquah Police Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum said the agency increased the number of officers in the student-packed area near Issaquah High, Issaquah Middle, Clark Elementary and Tiger Mountain Community High schools in downtown Issaquah, but the Issaquah Police Department did not receive information about potential threats to the schools.
“Our intent on that is to provide that sense of security to the students and parents that are associated with the high school,” he said.
Issaquah High administrators also prohibited students from leaving campus for lunch Thursday as a safety precaution.
Eastside Catholic High School — a parochial school along 228th Avenue between Skyline and Eastlake — added security personnel and is operating in “modified lockdown” — meaning administrators locked and manned entrances and exits, and closed window shades.
The school also canceled all outdoor activities, home sports games and athletics practices — unless the events can be conducted indoors.
Some parents kept students at home from Eastside Catholic due to the Skyline threat, but attendance reached about 90 percent of normal for Thursday, said a school administrator who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Meanwhile, attendance throughout the Issaquah School District dropped overall, as parents and students nervous about the Skyline threat kept students at home or did not go to campus.
District administrators continue to discuss the Skyline threat and should make a decision by late Thursday afternoon about whether to reopen the school Friday, district spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said.
The investigation includes district administrators in addition to police. Though officials acknowledged the threat could be a hoax, the district acted with caution in mind.
“At Skyline, we take student safety seriously and the administration will continue to work with the police to make sure kids are safe,” Don Braman, Skyline varsity soccer head coach and a humanities and Spanish teacher at the school, said in a phone interview.
Sullivan said 4Chan was used to post a similar threat against Lynnwood’s Meadowdale High School in April. Officials closed Meadowdale to students April 13 in response to the threat.
The perpetrator behind the Meadowdale threat was never identified, Edmonds School District community relations manager DJ Jakala wrote in an email.
Michael Dorn, a school safety consultant based in Macon, Ga., said district officials acted appropriately by opting to close school for the day. (Dorn’s company, Safe Havens International, has advised more than 2,000 schools around the globe, including schools in Washington state.)
Families of Skyline students received emails and phone calls late Wednesday with information about the closure.
“That type of communication is imperative. I just think it’s the right thing to do in many cases,” Dorn said. “There are situations where you could interfere with the investigation to make that kind of notification, but in most instances, that is what we would recommend and what we consider a very proactive measure.”
School administrators started responding more seriously to threats of violence after a spate of shootings on school campuses in the late 1990s, especially the April 1999 massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School.
“I think most people these days would agree to err on the side of caution,” Dorn said.
The rise of social media changed how such threats occur — and how school administrators and students respond to possible violence.
“The cyber aspect has made it much more challenging for schools. It used to be the telephone call and the note pasted on a bathroom stall,” Dorn said. “Now we are seeing a lot more use of technology and it can be, sometimes, more difficult. A lot of these individuals are caught and are arrested.”
Dorn said the reference to a specific firearm in the 4chan post could aid investigators in the search for the user.
“Threats are very common — those have increased,” Dorn said. “I’ve been in this field for 33 years now. The actual number of attacks is down, particularly the homicide rate.”
The technology involved, however, can further obscure the user’s identity and whereabouts.
“Just like we used to do with bomb threat calls, they’ll stay on it, track it down and find the person,” Dorn said. “The big disadvantage we have today is that it’s a lot easier to be in Eastern Europe and Asia or the Middle East, and communicate a threat to the state of Washington.”
Managing Editor Kathleen R. Merrill, and reporters Caleb Heeringa, Warren Kagarise and Lillian O’Rorke wrote this article.