Three students have been arrested for allegedly making recent bomb threats against Alachua County schools, and more arrests are expected soon, authorities said.
The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office executed multiple search warrants last week in Newberry, and a total of seven bomb threats have been reported across county schools, said Art Forgey, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.
The threats have disrupted instruction at the affected schools as students, teachers and staff have had to be evacuated each time, according to authorities and school officials.
“These are very serious,” Forgey said. “Different people or kids may think this is a joke or that it’s funny, but it is very serious.”
A 15-year-old and 17-year-old were each arrested after allegedly calling in the bomb threats at Newberry High School and Oakview Middle School, respectively, last week. The suspects both attend Newberry High and are still in custody, Forgey said.
The 15-year-old is charged with two counts of making false bomb threats and three counts of using a communications device to make them and one for making a threat of a mass shooting. The 17-year-old faces three counts of making false bomb threats and three of using a communications device, and one for making a threat of a mass shooting.
Another 17-year-old student was arrested on Sept. 13 after allegedly recently making multiple bomb threats at Buchholz High in Gainesville and will be charged and tried as an adult, Forgey said. Charged with making false bomb threats, possession of cocaine and using a two-way communication device to commit a felony, he faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
The sheriff’s office did not release how each of these threats were reported, citing the pending investigation. At least two of the threats also involved gun violence, and threatening messages were shared on Snapchat to students after the threats occurred.
On Sept. 25, high school students received this Snapchat message while evacuating: “I’m going to shoot if you don’t make everybody clear west park. I see all of you. I have a sniper. I will shoot. RUN.”
The next day, students received this Snapchat message, according to the Gainesville Sun: “I’m coming for all of you high schoolers!! I’m heading to the track after I blow the middle school up. I hope y’all ready. Be ready guys hehehe. I have ak s and s*** to blow all y’alls a**** up.”
“They were terroristic in nature,” Forgey said.
The leaders of each law enforcement agency in the county and the state attorney’s office met last week to address the increase in gun violence and threats in school, he said.
The sheriff’s office has detectives that are specifically trained to deal with explosives. A deputy is also assigned to an FBI squad to provide guidance over the investigation.
For parents, these threats bring their biggest fears to the surface.
Bryon Gindlesperger was visiting his mother’s house in Bell, Gilchrist County, when he received a text message from Oakview Middle that there had been a bomb threat at the school. When he picked up his son, a sixth grader there, he learned there was a possible shooter threat as well.
Gindlesperger said the bomb threats didn’t bother him as much as hearing from his daughter – a 10th grader at Newberry High – that they included gun violence.
“By not including that information from the school, school board, or sheriff’s office, that hinders my ability to make appropriate decisions in regards to my children’s safety,” Gindlesperger said.
Other parents also complained of feeling in the dark about the threats at their children’s schools.
Tabitha Jones first heard the news from her daughter, an 11th grader, sent a text while being evacuated from Newberry High. Her brother is a ninth grader there and was also evacuated.
With the most recent threats occurring in succession, students and teachers remained on edge.
Her daughter told Jones that when the intercom came on in first period one day last week, students physically flinched and reached for their bags. It was just the morning announcements.
Jones said the district must do a better job of communicating the threats to parents as they arise.
“I don’t worry so much about the bomb threat,” she said. “I feel that’s more of a prank coming from a child, but when they go to a gun shooting, that’s more concerning to me as a parent. Guns are more accessible to a lot of people, even children.”
Alachua County Public Schools communicates with the district security chief and law enforcement partners at all times, said Jackie Johnson, a spokesperson for the district. Johnson also said the district is not always able to share all of the information it may have.
“Always what we are trying to do is protect the safety of students and staff, while also not jeopardizing any sort of investigation or prosecution after an event,” she said.
Dorothy Thomas, president of the Oakville Middle School Parent/Teacher Organization, said parents should urge their children to share whatever information they have about the matter.
“There are absolutely kids out there who know what is going on,” Thomas said.
Many parents wonder what the rest of the school year will hold after this week.
“My biggest fear is that if these threats continue, we may get to a point where we’re not taking them seriously,” Thomas said. “Then one of them ends up being real.”