Students arrested this week in 6 locations
One week after 17 people were gunned down at a Florida school, it’s clear Mahoning Valley law-enforcement officials are taking student threats seriously.
Police have pursued criminal charges against several juveniles this week as officers investigated perceived threats at several schools.
“The days of joking are over,” said Niles police Chief Jay Holland. “You can’t joke about blowing up a plane at the airport, and you can’t joke about school shootings. There’s no way to tell who’s serious and who’s not. So we take it all seriously.”
Students were arrested this week in Boardman, Sebring, Niles, Warren, Liberty and McDonald. Two buildings in the Austintown school district were locked down. Charges are pending against a student in Liberty.
Additionally, police did not comment on incidents reported in Weathersfield, Howland and Lordstown.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said getting students who make threats into the juvenile justice system can help authorities identify potential issues and deal with them.
“Once the juvenile court gets involved, there are a lot of programs that might assist with any issues the kids may have,” Gains said. “[The court is] not there necessarily to punish delinquent children. It’s there to help them.”
Here’s a summation of the incidents covered by The Vindicator:
Police on Thursday night charged a Niles McKinley High School student, Keagan Landfried, 15, with inducing panic and took him to Trumbull County Juvenile Justice Center after he was accused of making a threat involving the high school.
A Niles police report says a student told police Wednesday evening Landfried had posted comments on social media that were perceived to be threats.
Landfried also was alleged to have made jokes at school about how he would plan and conduct a school shooting, showing a map of the school and saying there was a gun at his house, police said.
On Thursday, police interviewed students. At least one said Landfried instructed his friends to “wear certain color shirts so he doesn’t shoot them and that he will have an AR [assault-rifle] style gun.”
Police used a warrant to the boy’s home Thursday, removing maps of the school, a PVC pipe with a switch on it and a laptop computer, Holland said Friday. The boy’s parents brought him to the police station at 10:30 p.m. Thursday.
It was the third incident involving a school threat in Niles schools this week. The police department has put extra officers at the school this week, especially at arrival and dismissal times.
In Warren, a 13-year-old boy of Jefferson Street Southwest, was charged with felony inducing panic Thursday after he purportedly made a false threat at the Jefferson K-8 school on Tod Avenue Southwest in Warren. He was released to his parents.
About 2 p.m., the boy is accused of running into the classroom and shouting that “Someone is coming with a gun.” The boy then ran behind tables and laid on the floor under the tables to hide, police said.
The student was removed from the school, but police determined there was never a threat to the school district or students, the news release says.
Austintown Intermediate and Fitch High schools both went on “soft” lockdown for about an hour Friday after threatening notes were found in classrooms in the intermediate school two consecutive days.
Lt. Tom Collins with township police said the notes found read “someone will die,” and listed four first names with the phrase “death club.”
“We kept control contained because we had officers in the building, and made sure everything stayed safe,” he said.
Fitch went on lockdown due to “adult behavior” at the intermediate school. No students have been charged, but two men were arrested during the investigation. Mark Butcher, 20, is charged with inducing panic, resisting arrest and menacing, and Frank Catello, 36, is charged with misconduct at an emergency. Both were combative with police officers and schools officials during the lockdown, Superintendent Vince Colaluca said.
“We didn’t want the situation to get out of control when you have 30 to 40 parents in the lobby watching this incident,” Collins said.
No weapons were found and the lockdown was lifted soon after.
“We understand parents have a heightened sense of awareness and security with the Florida shooting,” Colaluca said. “They have to trust in the schools.”
In Boardman, police arrested Boardman High School student Michael Richards, 14, of Indianola Road, on a charge of inducing panic Thursday.
Timothy Saxton, Boardman superintendent, said Richards told a teacher Thursday morning he was going to bring a gun and shoot everyone’s kneecaps.
“You can’t do that. It’s as simple as that,” Saxton said.
Student resource officers and administration launched into “investigation mode” even though Richards told them his statement was a joke.
Reports said Richards told police he “wouldn’t really do it,” and said “I realize how stupid this was.”
Officers searched the student and determined he did not have weapons or access to weapons after visiting his home Thursday.
Richards was taken to the Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center after the incident.
Reports said the teenager faces a federal charge of inducing panic.
“The [high-school] principal earlier this week just went over the announcements to alleviate maybe some fears going on and said, ‘You have got to be careful what you say,’ and the student admitted to hearing that announcement, yet said what he said anyway,” Saxton said.
“The Boardman Schools will not tolerate bad behavior or threats of violence,” Saxton said in a news release.
Griffin Hardy, 15, was arrested Wednesday, and arraigned in juvenile court Friday afternoon on a misdemeanor charge of making false alarms after an alleged threat toward the school.
Superintendent Toni Viscounte said the alleged threat the freshman made was verbal, and he was suspended after the incident.
Theresa Tolson, the village’s prosecuting attorney, said there is a conflict of interest in the case, but could not comment on specifics.
“I have not got one phone call from a parent or a staff member that felt seriously threatened,” said JoAnn Jones, school board president. “Not one phone call. I was really, really surprised.”
A 16-year-old Liberty High School student has inducing-panic charges pending after an incident Thursday afternoon, according to a police report.
The report said Superintendent Joseph Nohra contacted them, advising a student threatened to fire a handgun at the school. The guidance counselor had told Nohra a student said he was bullied and made a comment he would bring a handgun and “spray them all,” motioning his hands as if he was shooting, the report said.
Police Chief Richard Tisone said officers and school officials intercepted the student Friday morning when he got off the bus. He said children have to be cautioned not to joke around about guns or attacking people, especially in light of the mass shooting at the Parkland, Fla., high school.
“Because of what’s recently happened, everyone is in panic mode. Anytime a student says anything now, it’s going to be taken seriously by school officials and police,” he said.
Nohra said he couldn’t comment on whether the student was suspended or expelled, but said school officials will take any threat seriously.
The case was turned over to Stanley Elkins, the Trumbull County juvenile prosecutor. Elkins said the prosecutor’s policy is to hold any suspects with probable cause while police investigate.
“These kids think it’s a joke, and we can’t take it as a joke,” he said. “If there is probable cause, they are coming to the juvenile justice center.”
Kevin O’Connell, McDonald School District superintendent, said there was an incident Friday morning in which a student reported a threat made by another student.
School officials contacted the police department, and by the end of the afternoon, the student was taken into police custody. Police searched the student and his locker but didn’t find any weapons, O’Connell said.
“We are taking every threat as seriously as possible. Our priority is keeping students safe,” he said.
O’Connell told 21 WFMJ-TV, The Vindicator’s broadcast partner, the high-school student was taken into custody. Police are forwarding the case to the prosecutor and recommending charges of inducing panic be filed against him.
Terry Armstrong, Lords-town School District superintendent, said there was an incident Feb. 16 involving a student who lives in Howland but is part of the Transitional Adjustment Program for emotionally disturbed students, which uses classrooms at Lordstown High School.
A student in the program changed an Instagram name to something that was disturbing, but was not a specific threat to anyone or the school district, Armstrong said.
The police department was contacted, and the student was taken to the JJC.
“We have a see-something, hear-something, say-something policy at our school. Whether it’s students or families, we encourage them to tell us before it becomes a problem. I commend our students for being proactive,” he said.
Elkins said his office is investigating similar incidents since last Feb. 16 in Weathersfield and Howland, but superintendents and police were not available to comment.
Contributors: Staff writers Ed Runyan, Billy Ludt, Samantha Phillips and Amanda Tonoli