School threat thwarted
A threat texted to a Hayesville student last week was stopped from possibly being carried out thanks to cooperative efforts from several local law enforcement agencies and school administrators. As a result, Jason Scott Young, 17, of Andrews, N.C. was arrested Wednesday, Aug. 28 and charged with communicating threats and communicating threats of mass destruction.
Near the end of the school day on Wednesday, Aug. 28, a Hayesville High School male student allegedly received a text from the Andrews teen. According to arrest warrants, the text issued a threat of violence to a Hayesville student and “a mass act of violence,” that could occur at Frank R. Long Memorial stadium during Friday’s home football game.
The student who received the text, whose name is being withheld, notified a sheriff's school resource officer right away.
"The SRO then brought the information back and work began to develop the information and formulate a plan of action based on the circumstances and possible scenarios," Investigator Lt. Todd Wingate said.
Penland commended the sheriff’s office for its handling of the situation. “I was impressed with the whole thing,” he said.”The sheriff's department immediately sprang into action, gathering information from the young man who reported the incident, gathering information on the suspect."
HHS principal Jim Saltz also contacted Cherokee County schools to determine where the suspect attended school. It was confirmed he was not presently enrolled in school there, Penland said Wednesday morning.
"Law enforcement in two separately organized groups simultaneously made contact at two locations approximately 10 miles apart," Wingate said. "The suspect was located, identified and taken into custody without incident in the Andrews area at approximately 12:30 a.m. and a search warrant was executed at that residence. A second person in the company of the suspect at the time was temporarily detained and later released when it was determined this person was not involved. Consideration was given to the possibility of more than one suspect; however, no information was developed to corroborate that as a credible scenario."
The suspect was charged with a felony, but was released on bond Sunday.
When Penland was notified that the suspect was out of jail, he asked Clay County Sheriff Bobby Deese for a photo. The superintendent emailed the picture to all faculty and staff so they would recognize the teen if he ever comes to the campus. “If he ever appears on school property or at a school event, he will be arrested immediately,” Penland said.
"The sheriff's department kept us informed every step of the way,” he continued. “The school and sheriff's department put information on Facebook after the suspect was arrested. I did an 'all call' to the parents, notifying them that everyone was safe and the suspect was in jail. I immediately instituted a campus ban for the suspect. The SRO hand-delivered it to the suspect while in jail."
For Friday night's football game, the school requested additional officers, just as a precaution. "We had additional deputies, state troopers, plain clothes law enforcement, as well as additional school staff on duty," Penland said. "Our schools and students were never in harm’s way and are still safe."
Wingate confirmed. "Nothing occurred at the schools or anywhere near school property," he said. "We were in communication with school officials solely for precautionary reasons so that in the event anything escalated, they would have an idea of what we were dealing with."
"I am very proud of how the faculty, staff and students are keenly aware of their surroundings and willing to report anything suspicious," Penland said. "We are doing everything humanly possible to keep our students safe."
Wingate explained the sheriff's office role. "We have regular training for response to events such as this, which can have a wide range of possibilities," he said. "Depending on what we are presented with, determines what is prioritized and what action is taken. We also work with the school in our planning and training scenarios and they do the same for us so we know what to expect upon on our response to an event."
In addition, Penland said new technology will soon be available to further students' safety.
"The state is going live with a tip line app later this fall," he explained. "All administrators are going to be trained on the use of the app in the next few weeks, as it becomes available. School safety is on the agenda of every administrator's meeting. We are continually looking at ways to make improvements in this area. I want to thank the quick work of the Clay County Sheriff's department and high school administration, as well as the Hayesville High School student who knew to make this report to the SRO/sheriff's department. As always, we want our students and adults to be vigilant and report anything that seems suspicious."
On behalf of the sheriff’s office, Wingate also expressed appreciation for everyone's diligence.
"This was a rapidly evolving scenario that took a lot of effort to coordinate resources in a short amount of time," he said. "Ultimately, those resources included school administration, Clay and Cherokee County sheriff’s offices, North Carolina State Highway Patrol, ATF, N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and assistant district attorneys from District Attorney Ashley Welch’s office. Our students and community did an excellent job by reporting the information immediately. We are very thankful and fortunate it was brought to law enforcements' attention when it was. Not only did work immediately begin to identify and locate the source of the threat, but efforts were being made to document and preserve evidence, as well as setting a plan into motion to confront the source. As information developed, every aspect of the scenario was considered and prioritized with the safety of our students, the schools, and the general public being of the highest priority. Everyone involved was fully committed and remained on scene actively working their assigned responsibilities well into the early morning hours of Thursday."