Law enforcement believes one or more students are responsible for leaving several threatening voicemails on the Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School principal’s phone, prompting the school to go into a precautionary lockdown Monday morning.
Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus confirmed Monday evening that officials believe more than one student left several voicemails with varying threats but said she’d been asked not to go into further detail.
“The investigation is ongoing, so law enforcement is still in the process of interviewing people,” Stankus told My Buckhannon. “They’ve asked me not to share the details of the threats or those related to the students.”
School will be in session Tuesday according to regular schedule, Stankus said. The messages left on B-UMS Principal Michael Lynch’s voicemail were deemed not credible after an investigation by local and state law enforcement.
“The threats were evaluated by Upshur County Schools personnel, Homeland Security and the Sheriff’s Department,” according to an afternoon press release from Upshur County Schools. “Based on this evaluation, it was determined that the threats were not credible. However, the precautionary lockdown restricts traffic into and through the building while allowing officials to further investigate.”
Stankus said the students responsible will be held accountable and urged parents and guardians to discuss the seriousness of such actions.
“I just hope that families have those conversations with their student and that they know we will hold the students who did this accountable to the fullest extent,” Stankus said. “It is a crime and it does disrupt our community and our schools, and it puts a hardship on students and families.”
“A juvenile prosecutor is already involved,” she added.
Earlier in the day, Stankus said the caller or callers may have attempted to disguise their voices but state law enforcement officials were working to track the calls.
“When we have events like this, what happens is, we have (the Department of Homeland Security) and the Fusion Center working in the background, because they can track those calls back to the source,” Stankus said. “There were several different threats – even extortion.”
According to the superintendent, a little over half of the student body went home, while the remainder of students stayed on site and attended their regularly scheduled classes.
The Upshur County Sheriff’s Department and Upshur County Schools first announced the lockdown in a joint press release issued Monday morning.
“School officials were notified about a possible threat to the safety of students at Buckhannon Upshur Middle School,” according to the release. “After collaboration among Upshur County Schools, Upshur County Sheriff’s Department and Homeland Security, it was decided to place B-U Middle School on a precautionary lock down while further investigation was being completed and to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff.”
A line of parents and other relatives quickly formed outside the school.
Referring to the traffic backup on Route 20 that occurred as parents and guardians arrived to pick up students, Stankus explained the lockdown meant access to the building was strictly limited and the school had to follow the protocol outlined in the emergency response plan during what’s called the reunification process.
“There are certain protocols we must follow in order to get the right student with the right family member, so we have to follow those as they’re written in our plan,” she said, noting central office support staff were on site as well as middle school staff. “Of course, during the debriefing process following the incident, we always talk about ways we can improve the processes. Part of that could be having someone in place to man the traffic.”
Students who were picked up were granted excused absences for the day.
Stankus said safety is the top priority of school officials, who err on the side of caution when threats are received.
“Our first priority is to keep our students and staff safe, providing a safe learning and working environment for them,” Stankus said. “All threats are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated, always erring on the side of safety. We are pleased with the quick response and collaboration among all of the agencies involved.”
Anyone with further information helpful to the investigation of the threat is encouraged to contact the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department at 304-472-1185.
This is the second threat to interrupt schools in Upshur County this year.
In August, school was delayed one morning while officials investigated a separate threat made on social media that they later determined involved a school in Texas, not West Virginia.