As schools all across America continue to get back to a sense of normalcy after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, in Parkland, Florida, they continue to remain on edge as the number of threats and activity that schools have witnessed since the Parkland shooting has significantly increased, especially here in Harris County.
This past week, Houston Community College closed its Central College campus located at 1300 Holman Street on Monday and Tuesday (May 7-8) as a result of a shooting threat that was made on social media over that weekend.
HCC officials immediately responded to the threat and took every precaution to protect students from any potential harm, in spite of finals being scheduled for that week.
“It was my decision to close the campus for the last two days,” said HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado. “It was a decision made out of an abundance of caution and concern for everyone’s safety and based on input from law enforcement and my leadership team.”
After an intense investigation by HCC Police, a person of interest was identified and investigators sought to have charges brought against that individual. Upon review of the information, the Harris County District Attorney’s office charged 21-year-old Luis Antonio Rivera with allegedly making a terroristic threat at HCC’s Central Campus. The HCC Central Campus eventually reopened, but HCC identified that this matter was too important to ignore.
“Houston Community College remains vigilant and responds thoroughly whenever any reports of a concerning nature are received and, as always, we will be proactive in the safety of our campuses,” HCC said in a statement. “We want to thank the many agencies that were involved in responding to this threat and remind everyone if you see something, say something.”
Since the beginning of the year, America has found itself having to deal with countless acts of domestic terrorism as a result of gun violence. Sadly, many of these acts came after warning signs were displayed and threats were made through openly accessible outlets like social media.
In the case of 19-year-old domestic terrorist suspect, Nikolas Cruz, the Florida Department of Children and Families had been alerted to social media posts where Cruz talked about buying a gun and doing physical harm to himself at least a year and a half before he shot and killed those seventeen people in Parkland, according to a state report. Even after a person close to Cruz called into a tip line to identify him as a gun owner who had intentions of potentially murdering people at a school, the F.B.I. publicly admitted to not investigating the tip. Cruz had just legally purchased a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle in February 2017 – a year prior to killing his victims.
Just a day after the Parkland shooting, 17-year-old Jaquinn Alani Smith tried to come to school at the Hobby campus of Houston Can Academy with a gun in his backpack. Because Houston Can Academy had a screening process to enter the school, the gun was discovered and Smith ran away. Smith was eventually arrested by members of law enforcement and charged with carrying a weapon in a prohibited place, but the thought of what had happened the day before in Florida was fresh on the minds of students, teachers, administrators and parents.
This is a prime example of why monitoring these types of threats, particularly social media activity, is critical and can stave off a potential tragic event like the Parkland shooting and others.
Back in September 2016, then-14-year-old Jesse Osborne, went onto social media to ask his Instagram friends whether he should go back to his former elementary school or to the middle school he had been suspended from, a week before he fatally shot 6-year-old Jacob Hall and wounded two others at Townville Elementary School.
According to the F.B.I., Osborne’s social media posts showed that he stated he was going to kill his father, get the keys to his truck and drive to Townville Elementary School to commit the act of violence. Less than a year before the Townville shooting, Osborne was criminally charged with bringing a machete and a hatchet to his middle school because he was being bullied.
On December 7, 2017, 21-year-old William Atchinson went to his former high school in New Mexico and fatally shot Casey Marquez and Francisco Fernandez before killing himself. Minutes before he committed the horrific act, he posted a message on social media talking about what he planned to do.
Ironically, that was not the first time Atchinson had made these types of comments on social media. He was investigated by the F.B.I. a year prior for making disturbing comments on social media, but the F.B.I. did not charge him with anything because they said he was no threat at the time. Atchinson went on to legally buy the gun he used to kill his victims and himself.
According to officials at the Harris County District Attorney’s office, at least 140 criminal cases involving threats against students and school campuses have been filed with their office since the Parkland shooting, with most of the individuals charged being between 12 and 16 years of age.
Much of the gun violence tied to schools can seemingly be prevented, and it begins with a simple focus. If you see something, you must say something – before it is too late.
The Forward Times plans to continue being a part of these discussions related to gun violence, and will keep our readers informed on any new developments surrounding this important issue of gun violence in our country.