Clay schools closed after alleged shooting threat from students

By Erin Beck, Staff Writer

TOM HINDMAN | Gazette-Mail photos — The classrooms in Clay County Middle School were empty Wednesday. School officials announced Tuesday that schools would be closed for the rest of the week while police investigate threats that Clay County Middle students allegedly made about shooting classmates and teachers.

Clay County Schools Superintendent Kenneth Tanner said the halls are quiet because three middle school students planned a gun attack on students and teachers.

Stacy King (left) and Michelle Deyton talk about how school administration handled the alleged threats. Both have children who attend Clay County Middle School.

 

CLAY — Clay County schools were closed Wednesday and will remain closed for the rest of the week while police investigate threats that Clay County Middle School students allegedly made about shooting classmates and teachers, according to the county schools superintendent.

On April 26, school administrators at Clay County Middle received a tip that a middle school student had made threats about shooting people at the school on April 20, Clay County Superintendent Kenneth Tanner said Wednesday morning. April 20 was the 17th anniversary of the attack by two students at Columbine High School, in Colorado.

“It’s very scary — very sick,” Tanner said.

Tanner said three students have since been removed from school for their involvement in the threat.

“The plan was to go through classrooms and shoot as many students and staff as they could,” he said. He did not know the students’ motive for the alleged threat.

“I’m not sure that anyone, at this point, knows,” he said.

The students have not been suspended or expelled, but they are receiving their education at another location. Tanner would not say where.

He said that, by the end of last week, school officials knew the threats were not a hoax. He said school officials made the decision to close schools for the rest of the week based on additional information they’d received Tuesday. He would not describe that additional information.

The superintendent said he believes the students didn’t carry out their attack on April 20 because they wanted to recruit more students and get more guns.

“My belief is, if they had their resources, they would have tried it,” Tanner said. He said they did have access to “some” guns.

The past week has been “chaos” in Clay County, Tanner said.

He said rumors about guns being found at the school, active shooters at the school and bomb threats are untrue.

“The kids are just scared to death,” he said.

Michelle Deyton, who has a son and stepdaughter in sixth grade at the school, didn’t find out a threat had been made until Friday, when she heard a rumor and then saw a story on her Facebook posted by a TV news channel. Then, on Tuesday, she found out through text message that six West Virginia State Police troopers were at the school. After she ran there to pick up her son and stepdaughter, she said school staff members “were very rude.”

“They huffed and puffed and said, ‘Oh my god,’ ” she said. “It was just like I was being ridiculous.”

She said that while she was told the state troopers were there as a safety measure, parents should have been told that in advance.

She also said that one little girl told her son and stepdaughter that their names were found on a hit list in a school bathroom.

“I tried to explain that this little girl doesn’t know, but they freaked out,” she said. “They don’t understand what’s going on because nobody up there has talked to them.”

Deyton was visibly stressed out Wednesday. She said she was upset by a lack of communication between school officials and parents. She also was upset because she said one door at the school was left open when she visited.

Stacy King, another parent of a sixth-grader who stopped by Deyton’s place of work on Wednesday, also felt school officials had not been transparent.

“I’m very worried,” Deyton said. “Mainly I’m upset because I was treated like I overreacted up there and my child’s safety is more important than . . .”

“Not overreacting,” King finished her sentence.

“They’ve told the news more than they’ve told the parents,” King added.

King has already signed up to speak at the board meeting Monday.

“I won’t be sending [my daughter] Monday till after the board meeting,” she said. “I doubt anyone else will, either.”

One seventh-grader though, thought the school has handled the incident well. The student, who didn’t want to be identified by name, said she was surprised by the incident.

“There was a lot of people absent, but I wasn’t really worried because I thought they handled it well,” she said. “And the teachers locked the doors, and all the entrance places were locked off and they had police there a couple days, so I felt safe.”

Tanner said that, in addition to giving police time to investigate, closing schools the rest of the week will give people time to calm down. Some parents haven’t been sending their students to school since the threats became known.

“We encourage parents to hug their kids and love their kids, and we are so very thankful that, in this case, fortunately, nothing happened,” he said.

Tanner said school officials closed all Clay schools, not just the middle school, based on budget concerns. He said the middle school students would have to make up the days at the end of the year, and the school system can’t afford to have buses run 183 days — both this week for high school and elementary school students, and then three extra days at the end of the year for the middle school students.

Tanner also has posted updates about the investigation on the Clay schools website.

The State Police is investigating the threat, but officials there wouldn’t comment on their investigation.

Clay County school administrators will be at all schools to answer telephone calls and conduct business for the rest of the week.

Classes are expected to resume Monday.

Reach Erin Beck at erin.beck@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5163, Facebook.com/erinbeckwv, or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.