Recent threats of violence lead to questions about R-3 alert system

Parents with concerns over receiving alerts from the Platte County R-3 School District need to make sure information on file at the schools is up to date.

A recent spate of incidents involving threats of violence have led to some questions about how the school distributes updates. However, district officials don’t plan to start issuing printed paper alerts to be sent home with students, a practice mostly seen as out-of-date.

A recent school survey showed 97 percent of households in the district have internet access, making the email alerts much more efficient.

“Our parent preference is primarily electronic, and it’s real time communication,” Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik said. “As soon as we hit send, in essence, it’s received by them. By the time a letter makes it home, it’s already old news. That’s the world we live in now.”

However, the district also has no plans to increase posts to social media in emergency situations. According to Reik, all threats are treated as serious, and knowing a potential armed or dangerous suspect could be monitoring sites like Facebook and Twitter, makes that type of information potentially hazardous to stopping a crime.

“We’ve had an abundance of opportunity to consider what type of messages belong on social networking,” Reik said. “We’re real careful about posting safety or crisis messaging on social media.”

District alerts have been sent out three times in the past month for incidents of reported violence — two involving guns and one a bomb threat deemed non-credible. At no time did a gun make its way onto campus, and there have been no injuries.

The district has also been criticized for the lack of details provided. However, Reik said the alerts often go out while the investigation continues, and many of the details come out later after law enforcement has begun to handle the process.

“We’re careful about making sure that parents have what they need, students have what they need in terms of communication,” Reik said. “We’re also not providing more information than we need to, which could be to our detriment.”

Late last month, law enforcement officials responded to threats of gun violence on back-to-back days.

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, students reported SnapChat posts featuring a 13-year-old boy purportedly threatening gun violence at Platte City Middle School. The following day, a 17-year-old male was taken into custody after being found with a large knife on the campus of Northland Career Center in Platte City in a separate incident.

The Platte City Police Department determined the SnapChat video to be a credible threat, according to Lt. Al DeValkenaere, because the student had the means to carry out the threat.

According to DeValkenaere, a short video showed the 13-year-old with a pistol and text to the effect of, “This is for everyone who teased me.”

A follow-up image showed the student in a long coat with the outline of a gun.

Law enforcement briefly detained the student, and a family member’s gun in the student’s possession was recovered and secured, according to DeValkenaere. The student was not placed into custody because the weapon had been secured. 

The matter was turned over to the Clay County Juvenile Office for potential charges.

A spokesperson with the Platte County Juvenile Office confirmed that two felony petitions had been filed in the other case after a Northland Career Center student was placed into custody on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

According to the petition, the 17-year-old student committed the Class D felony of making a terroristic threat for knowingly causing a false belief that a condition involving danger to life with a post to Instagram, a social media website for images and videos. The video in question allegedly showed the student holding a handgun with the following statement, “Me waiting to shoot up the school.”

The petition indicates the student goes to Park Hill High School. 

DeValkenaere said a family member told authorities the photo was actually from a holiday gathering where the student engaged in target shooting under supervision, and that the boy did not have access to the weapon in question. When members of the Platte City Police Department questioned the student at Northland Career Center, they found him in possession of a different weapon. 

A Class D felony for unlawful use of a weapon on school premises was also part of the petition due to the “Tac Force Bigboy Stiletto knife with a 6-inch spring assisted blade” concealed on his person on the premises of Northland Career Center.

On Wednesday, Dec. 14, the juvenile was committed to the Missouri Division of Youth Services and ordered to continue to be detained in a secure locked facility until such time as received by the Division of Youth Services.

District officials acknowledged that the alert for the threat involving the NCC student only went out to parents of NCC students because he never had contact with any other part of the campus. Assessments are made based on the incident to determine which parents receive specific alerts.

Reik said all parents in the district were notified of the bomb threat called in to the Platte County High School Welcome Center at about 11:40 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 12. According to the district, staff and administration responded in accordance to school safety measures and worked with the Platte City Police Department to conduct a threat assessment.

Authorities deemed the threat not credible, but the district implemented additional safety precautions. All activities were kept on schedule.

“There’s a period of time where we have to make sure we know what we’re dealing with,” Reik said. “And so we’re not going to communicate specifics until we know we are 100 percent sure what we’re dealing with. We’re very careful not to communicate anything before we can confirm it to be factual. The last thing we want to do is be first or be quick but be wrong.”