Arrest Made in Threats Against Florida School

Oct. 2, 2006
Senior confesses to involvement, said threats were a prank, but police treat it otherwise

Sep. 30--BONIFAY -- Authorities charged a Holmes County High School senior Friday afternoon with making threats of violence against the school.

Jefferson "Jeffery" Wilson, 18, of Bonifay, was arrested at about 3 p.m. at the high school and later confessed to police about his involvement, said Steve Griffin, Holmes County School District superintendent.

A simple prank was Wilson's motive for sending the several notes threatening violence, Griffin said.

Police are continuing their investigation and think there might be another person involved, according to a Holmes County Police news release.

Wilson denied any ill intention toward students or staff, the news release stated. Wilson faces a second-degree felony charge of threatening to kill or harm anyone at the school. If convicted, the offense could be bumped to a firstdegree felony under state law concerning facilitating or furthering terrorism, authorities said.

Holmes County High School Principal Janice Johnson said Friday night she was relieved the incident was finally over.

Less than 10 percent of Holmes County High School's student body showed up for class on Friday -- some out of fear, others likely taking advantage of an administrative decision to grant excused absences to those who stayed home.

"That was not unexpected," Principal Janice Johnson said of the 30 students in class. The school has an enrollment of 475.

"We didn't have too many kids come out, but the ones that came were very wellbehaved," she said. "We're having a football game tonight and we have a good crowd, and I think everything will run smoothly next week."

The ordeal began on Sept. 18 when school officials notified the sheriff's office about a threatening letter that had been turned over to school administrators. Since that time, two more threatening messages were found on the school's campus, officials said, including one on the wall of a boy's restroom.

Investigators collected and submitted handwriting samples to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Crime Lab in Pensacola for analysis.

Police increased their presence at the school on Friday because of the threats and will continue to do so until the entire matter is resolved, the news release stated.

School violence

This week will go down as a violent one for public schools. On Wednesday, a gunman invaded a Colorado high school, took several female students hostage and killed one before turning a gun on himself.

On Friday, a ninth-grader in Wisconsin shot and killed his principal before police arrested the student.

In Bay County on Friday, students and faculty at Patronis Elementary School in Panama City Beach got a scare when a man was seen walking on the grounds alone. Officials locked down the school and called the police, but the man escaped.

Bay County administrators and parents said they are prepared when these situations arise.

John Haley, the principal of Arnold High School, said school resource officers and administrators patrol the grounds looking for people who are out of place. Also, any visitor to the campus has to go through a background check.

"We're making sure anybody on our campus who looks suspicious is confronted," Haley said.

The types of events that have played out across the country this week tend to "make us more vigilant than ever," he added.

Bay County middle and high schools all are equipped with cameras and machines used to conduct background of school visitors.

"I feel that in Bay County we're meeting the needs that we see. We're ensuring that our kids are safe," Haley said.

Mosley High School parent Walt Abbott agreed.

"I think at Mosley we are very prepared -- as prepared as we can be," Abbott said. "I've always been very impressed with the way Mosley handles the security situation. This is not to say some crazed fool can't infiltrate the school if they wanted to try."

Mosley Principal Bill Husfelt said his staff works to keep the kids safe, but that does not mean they worry about it.

"We talk about it, but we don't worry about it," Husfelt said. "If you had to put a grand scheme of things to worry about, I worry more about a kid getting hurt playing a sport, crossing the street or in a car accident."

Husfelt and Haley said they get a lot of help from students when dangerous threats or rumors come up.

"Over the years here we have had a lot of kids tell us something, and 99 percent of the time there's not much to it," Husfelt said.

Copyright (c) 2006, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News. For reprints, email , call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.