Police interview 70 at Oswego High School as part of investigation : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Police interview 70 at Oswego High School as part of investigation |
|by John Etheredge and Lyle R. Rolfe|
Rumors of criminal acts including threats of violence at Oswego High School and other Oswego School District schools have been investigated but not been substantiated, Oswego Police Chief Dwight Baird said Tuesday.
Baird said police interviewed approximately 70 people at OHS while investigating the rumors over the past week, but no suspects have been identified and no arrests are pending.
This past Friday school district and police confirmed that an alleged threat to the safety of students and staff members had been made at Oswego High School.
In a statement released by the school district, officials reported that parents at Oswego High School had notified school administrators of possible violence at OHS on Friday, Dec. 21. The alleged threat was shared with classmates, staff members, parents and guardians.
The threat at OHS was specific to the Dec. 21 winter solstice, which marks the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar.
Soon afterward, rumors circulated through OHS, and then carried over to Oswego East High School and several junior high schools, according to the statement.
School district officials confirmed in the statement all rumors regarding any threat to students or staff members at Oswego East High School, or any junior high schools, had been identified as purely extensions from the original alleged threat at OHS. No information has been found to support a threat to students or staff members at any school other than Oswego High School.
Baird said he has received numerous calls from parents and residents concerned about the rumors.
"Again, nothing has been substantiated as far as any criminal acts or any threats. A few people had overheard someone. Really, there is nothing there," he said.
Baird emphasized that local schools remain safe places for students, teachers and anyone who visits them.
"The children are still very safe in the schools. I saw some statistics the other day that reported children are 100 percent more safe in school, than not in school," Baird said, adding, "The schools are very safe and if I felt there was a threat or issue I would for sure be notifying people of that."
Baird noted village police routinely travel by school bus stops and schools in the village throughout the day.
"We are doing more of that this week than we normally do. We want to make sure the kids are safe getting to school and back, and then we're traveling by the schools throughout the day," he said.
rumors spread quickly
Dr. Matthew Wendt, school district superintendent, commented on the rumors during a school board meeting Monday night.
"Last Tuesday (Dec. 11), as the board is aware, rumors began at Oswego High School. Having been a high school teacher and principal I know that rumors can quickly escalate in the high school community," Wendt said, adding, "All of a sudden a rumor can become a threat-either an alleged threat or an imminent threat. We were working with our law enforcement officials Tuesday evening and Wednesday and Thursday we had numerous investigations taking place at Oswego High School."
Wendt said the rumors escalated Thursday outside OHS and resulted in anxiety and fear at Oswego East High School and several junior high schools.
"We were always aware of what was taking place with the rumors but within a six to eight hour period, it mushroomed and escalated into something that was quickly managing us instead of us managing it.
"We had a tremendous amount of misinformation from social media. No human being can compete with the rate in which social media not only produces accurate but in this case inaccurate information.
"You can imagine what we were thinking when we were contacted Friday morning as administrators that a shooting in Connecticut had occurred in a school," Wendt said.
That massacre that had occurred could have had a significant impact in the district-especially in lieu of what they were living through at the time, according to Wendt.
Wendt said now is not a time to point fingers, but said the board should know that they can improve their crisis plan in the schools and across the district. He said he was pleased with the way staff, teachers and principals dealt with a difficult situation over the weekend.
"This board has my commitment now that I have been through, unfortunately, a difficult situation that also led to misinformation including members of our public mentioning blogs, Facebook and Skype-information that made our investigation and managing the situation very, very difficult," he said.
Wendt thanked the faculty at all district schools "... because just as Oswego High School and junior high teachers were dealing with rumors and potential threats on the lives of kids and adults, we turn around and all of a sudden we're cast into a national issue where every elementary faculty member had to deal with the shattering of innocence in another state that certainly engaged us into situations and conversations that we didn't ask for."
He said they were dealing with two major issues and said he was aware that they made mistakes. He said there are issues involving security that would be discussed with the board in closed session-issues that should not be known publicly for the interest of safety.
Wendt said this situation will give Oswego an opportunity to reflect on what the district did right and wrong and added that he received numerous calls about things that can be done in the future. He said the district needs to be prepared, saying that they will welcome all suggestions, comments and ideas from the public on the district's website.
Wendt said he would be making a final public statement on the issue later this week.
Baird noted police have worked with and trained with school district officials to deal with a violent situation for several years.
"They do have very good procedures in place and they constantly look at them," he said.
Several Oswego School District schools are located in other communities and police jurisdictions. The Aurora Police Department serves schools in the City of Aurora section of the district, while the Montgomery Police Department serves Lakewood Creek Elementary School, the district's only school located in the Village of Montgomery. The Kendall County Sheriff's Department serves Long Beach and Boulder Hill elementary schools in the unincorporated Boulder Hill Subdivision.
Though those schools are served by other law enforcement agencies, Baird said those agencies conduct similar school emergency drills.
"We all train the same way and are all doing the same type of training," Baird said. "If there was a call that came out (in the Aurora section of the district) the Aurora officers and Will County (Sheriff's Deputies) would respond and we would also. We all have the same training. We can all work together as a cog in a wheel and it will work fine."