CADILLAC — Many students were on their way to school or getting ready to go Friday morning when Cadillac Area Public Schools announced the district would be closed due to an online threat.
The district announced to parents that it received a call from Cadillac Police a little before 7 a.m. Friday that there was an online threat made to the high school. The district closed all schools “out of an abundance of caution.”
After the school shooting at Oxford High School, where four students were killed and several others wounded, Cadillac schools officials decided — out of an abundance of caution — to cancel classes for the day while the threat was assessed.
Shortly after noon Friday, the district announced law enforcement confirmed there was no credible threat to the district or its students.
In phone and emailed messages by CAPS Superintendent Jennifer Brown, she said the district was alerted to an online threat against Cadillac High School at 6:57 a.m. Friday. It was quickly decided to cancel school while law enforcement investigated the threat.
Brown also said law enforcement determined the threat to be a 3-year-old copycat post from out-of-state that was reposted by a student on Snapchat Friday morning. There were similar threats that closed other Northern Michigan school districts this week, Brown said.
When she got the call from Cadillac Police Friday morning, Brown said she immediately began protocols to close school using the district’s communication procedures including administration, staff, board of education, transportation and parent notification. With the school day about to begin in the secondary levels, Brown said it was critical to get the information to staff and parents as quickly as possible as the investigation was just getting underway.
“With great appreciation to the staff and administration on-site at Mackinaw Trail Middle School, Cadillac High School, Viking Learning Center and Cadillac Innovation High School, there was great coordination to get all students already onsite to a safe and secure area while transportation was arranged to return students home,” she said. “Once we secured buildings and students were home, the administration reviewed our protocols for any weaknesses or identified areas of improvement.”
She also said the district takes these opportunities to reflect and make any adjustments to its emergency plans that may improve district response. The tragic events that unfolded in Oxford this week are heartbreaking and a community’s worst nightmare, Brown said.
In a release Friday morning from Cadillac Director of Public Safety Adam Ottjepka, it stated his department was made aware of a social media post that involved a generalized threat to schools.
“Local law enforcement and CAPS make its top priority to provide for the safety and security of its students and staff,” Ottjepka said in the statement. “In a cooperative effort, Cadillac Police Department, Wexford County Sheriff’s Office along with the Michigan State Police have joined efforts to investigate these threats.”
Later in the morning Friday, a joint press release by law enforcement agencies in Wexford County including the city police, Wexford County Sheriff’s Office and the Cadillac Michigan State Police Post wanted to remind residents that making false threats of attack not only uses up valuable resources, it’s also a felony. Considering recent events in Michigan and throughout the country, more prosecutors are also taking a zero-tolerance stance against people making these threats, the release said.
Wexford County Prosecutor Corey Wiggins said there is a false report or threat of terrorism which is a 20-year felony. He said it includes a real threat that is communicated or a false threat that is communicated.
Of course, when dealing with a juvenile, the penalty is not the same as when it is an adult. Wiggins also said there can be potential assault charges that could be filed against someone depending on what the content of the message was.
The joint law enforcement press release also asked for help in law enforcement’s efforts to combat real and fake threats.
Police said many times students and others don’t report threats they see on social media. Instead, they share them on their social media platforms. Police said sometimes law enforcement are the last to know about these postings and what makes it even more difficult is tracking these threats online after they’ve been shared numerous times.
“Think of it like finding a note somewhere warning of an imminent attack. Instead of calling law enforcement, the person hands the note to a friend, who then hands it to someone else and so on and so on,” the release said. “By the time law enforcement receives the original note, it may go through several hands. In the case of social media, we’re talking thousands.”
Police said this only delays the investigation and slows law enforcement’s response when trying to confirm the threat and origin. If anyone sees or hears of a threat, their first action should be to notify law enforcement.
Ottjepka said his department and the other law enforcement agencies mentioned above take these types of situations very seriously. He also said when law enforcement gets to the bottom of this threat, if there are charges to be filed, they absolutely will be.
Wexford County Sheriff Trent Taylor also stated that he was not aware of any other districts within Wexford County receiving threats Friday. Missaukee County Sheriff Wil Yancer and Osceola County Sheriff Mark Cool said no threats were received in their counties Friday morning.
That changed later in the day in Missaukee County.
In a press release by the Missaukee County Sheriff’s Office Friday night, it stated the deputy assigned to the Lake City Area Schools became aware of a social media threat against the district. School officials were notified and an investigation started, according to the press release.
Base on digital evidence and investigative leads, the Missaukee County detectives and deputies identified a suspect and the Lake City juvenile was located at their residence and arrested shortly after 6 p.m. Friday.
After the arrest, the suspect was turned over to juvenile authorities, police said. The investigation will be submitted to the Missaukee County Prosecutor’s Office for review of potential charges. The Missaukee County investigation continues.
In October, Cadillac Area Public Schools had a similar incident involving a threat against the district.
The district was made aware of a possible threat to Cadillac Junior High during the early morning hours of Oct. 28. Police were notified during the night of Oct. 27, started the investigation and continued to investigate the threat. Eventually, police said the threat was made from out of state and was not deemed credible.
The days following the tragic events at Oxford High School in Oakland County have resulted in many districts across the state closing due to threats. On Friday, the 21 school district superintendents in Genesee County decided to close their schools due to potential threats and closer to home Big Rapids Public Schools also closed after a possible threat.
Earlier this week, Michigan State Police Office of School Safety Commission Lt. Col. Chris Kelenske released a statement following the deadly shooting in Oakland County.
While the incident at Oxford High School served as another reminder of the need for continued vigilance in keeping schools and students safe, the school safety commission remains committed to doing what it can to assist schools with safety and security.
Best practices in school security require a layered approach that involves a series of actions to improve school safety and security. One such action is the use of the student safety program OK2SAY, which allows students to confidentially report tips on potential harm or criminal activities directed at students, school employees and schools.
The goal of OK2SAY is to stop harmful behavior before it occurs by encouraging anyone to report threatening behavior to caring adult authorities who can help.
To provide a tip to OK2SAY go to www.michigan.gov/ok2say or call 8-555-OK2SAY (855-565-2729) or text to 652729 (OK2SAY).
The National Association of School Psychologists released parent resources providing developmentally appropriate tips on how to talk to children about violence. To see these resources online go to www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-safety-and-crisis/school-violence-resources/talking-to-children-about-violence-tips-for-parents-and-teachers.