SUSD to resume school Wednesday

An electronic sign outside the SUSD administration building advertises a concert Tuesday evening that was canceled, along with school. 

Sahuarita Unified School District expects to reopen its schools Wednesday, a day after police announced the arrest of a teenager in connection with one of two shooting threats posted on social media sites.

The Sahuarita Police Department continues to investigate the other threat.

SUSD spokeswoman Amber Woods said Tuesday police still have no reason to believe that threats made against three schools Sunday night are "credible and actionable."

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.

Lt. Sam Almodova declined to release any other information about the teenager or the case, saying it could hamper the investigation.

At one point, Almodova said "We continue to work and share information with SUSD and other law enforcement agencies. Information has been officially requested from different social media companies. Some of the information has been received and we will continue to work with these companies."

How it played out

SUSD officials found out about the first threat late Sunday night, Superintendent Manny Valenzuela said. 

They immediately contacted police but decided to keep school open and asked for additional officers to be assigned to the three schools. After Monday afternoon's threat, the decision was made to cancel school and all school-related activities, he said.

 Valenzuela said the district's decision has been praised and criticized. He said about 40 percent of the students at Anza Trail, Walden Grove and Sahuarita High were absent Monday after they didn't show or were pulled out of class by parents. Usually, the schools have about a 5 percent absence rate.

Sunday night's threat was posted between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., and when school opened the next morning, the police investigation had just started to unfold, Valenzuela said. 

"We did not receive anything to the point of gravity that there was an imminent or compelling reason to close school," Valenzuela said.

When SPD officials announced Monday that they had not found "a credible and actionable threat," the decision was made to remain open Tuesday. 

Minutes later, the second threat was posted, which "added to the uncertainty, to the magnitude of the situation," Valenzuela said. 

"Now you have another school and another photo of a threatening message which was, frankly, even more explicit, and graphic pictures of weapons. And so, given the seriousness of everything, the additional weight of this new information," the decision was made to close all of the schools Tuesday, he said.

While some parents thought neither threat was credible, Valenzuela said there was no way to know if that was true.

"So my message has tried to be that we will always act with caution, but also with as much common sense as possible and that this situation exemplifies that," he said. "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.

"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.

Throughout the ordeal, SUSD officials encouraged parents to talk to their kids about "the importance of practicing respectful digital citizenship" and never posting threats online. 

Valenzuela reiterated that point Tuesday. 

"It’s not funny and there have always been issues with student conduct, behavior, but the fact of the matter is technology has added a new dimension and elevated the access of people to say awful things like this," he said.

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740

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