Puerto Rico resident, former SUSD student, tied to online threat

A former Sahuarita Unified School District student now living in Puerto Rico has admitted to posting the online shooting threats against three SUSD schools Sunday night, authorities said Thursday.

According to a news release from the Sahuarita Police Department, detectives were able to track the post to a possible suspect in Puerto Rico and turned the information over to the FBI. Agents interviewed the suspect, a juvenile, Wednesday and the former student admitted their involvement.

"The suspect may face possible federal charges along with local charges in Puerto Rico," according to the news release. SPD declined to provide any other information about the suspect.

SUSD Superintendent Manny Valenzuela said he has not been provided the identity of the suspect.

"Obviously, it's a sense of relief that it appears this situation has been brought to a point of significant resolution," Valenzuela said. "Obviously, it's been a very stressful and challenging week for all of us."

The suspect is one of two juveniles now accused of posting online threats against SUSD schools this week. A juvenile boy was arrested Monday night in connection with online threats made against Sahuarita Middle School Monday afternoon.

On Sunday night, someone posted cartoon-style pictures with threats about shooting up Anza Trail School, Walden Grove High School and Sahuarita High School on Instagram and other social media websites.

On Monday afternoon, a photo of firearms was posted on Instagram and a statement was made about shooting hundreds of students at Sahuarita Middle School. The same photo was published in August in the Orange County Register with a story about police in Fullerton, Calif., recovering firearms and ammunition from a gang member. 

According to a police activity log, Sahuarita police arrested a boy from Sahuarita at 5 p.m. Monday after linking the teenager to the SMS threat. The teen, who was arrested in the 400 block of West Sahuarita Road, just west of SUSD's main campus, could face the following charges: making a terrorist threat, interference/disruption of an educational institution and use of electronic device to threaten. Police have not released a name but said the person is a juvenile.

As of Thursday afternoon, Lt. Sam Almodova has declined to release any other information about the teenager or the case.

Because police had deemed the Sunday night threat wasn't a credible one, SUSD opted to keep all schools open, albeit with additional SPD officers stationed at the three schools threatened. They ended up keeping all schools closed on Tuesday following the second threat.

Three parents addressed the SUSD governing board Wednesday night about how the district handled the situation. 

Ashley Coleman, the mother of an Anza Trail School kindergartener, struggled to maintain her composure as she spoke to the board. Finding out about the threat was "the worse moment" of her life and she questioned why parents weren't informed about it Sunday evening. Had she known earlier, she would never have sent her son to school Monday morning. She was also upset that no one asked for her name or identification when she went to retrieve her son from school once she heard of the threat.

She hasn't been able to send her son back to school, yet, Coleman said.

Hollie San Julian said her fourth and fifth graders are sleeping with her as a result of the threats. She urged the school district to consider taking more preventative security measures at all of the schools. She also urged officials to find someway to speak to students so they know just how serious making online threats are.

Carmen Hemperley, whose son goes to Walden Grove High School, is concerned about the remoteness of the school and the fact it has one way in and one way out.

Because the threats weren't on the agenda, board members were prohibited from addressing the parents' concerns.

In an interview Tuesday, Valenzuela said the school district will always act with caution, "but also with as much common sense as possible...these things are not always black and white, but you can always count on us to act in good faith and try to do what’s right and serve the community with integrity."

Those responsible for the threats will "absolutely" face disciplinary action if they are SUSD students, Valenzuela said at that time.

"I believe some of the charges on the law enforcement side are felonies and on the school side, regardless of intentions, the stated commentaries and the posts are serious infractions of disciplinary codes, policies and expectations," Valenzuela said. "In addition to that, this situation clearly has caused a large material disruption of school operations and the rights of every student to get an education."

Students will not have to make up for missing Tuesday, Valenzuela said, adding that there is flexible time built into the annual schedule.

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740