Police respond to reported threat, uncover hoax

A cordon of police met parents dropping their children at Mayo Middle School Monday, March 5.

Paris Police Chief Mike Henness said the exceptional presence of local police and Illinois State Police Troopers was in response to an unspecific threat of violence at a school.

“We are going to be there if we believe there is a .0001 percent chance of a threat,” said Henness.

Events started unfolding shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday, March 4, when a Mayo student was brought to the Paris Police Station by a parent with concerns about what appeared to be a threatening voice mail message on the student’s phone. The communication was apparently received the previous evening during a sleepover with two other Mayo students.

“I would like to commend the parent who overheard the conversation between the children and took it upon themself to report it to the police,” said Henness.

According to Henness, the message implied a threat of something bad happening at a school during the next day. The message did not specify a school or a town.

“We have unsubstantiated claims of violence to an unnamed school in an unnamed town,” said Henness.

Police moved ahead with a presumption Mayo was the intended location since a Mayo student received the message. Paris police detectives started a local investigation and Henness contacted the Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center (STIC) for help with tracking the phone number associated with the message. Illinois State Police Zone 5 investigations was informed, and Henness asked state police District 10 to send troopers for the start of school just in case extra manpower was needed at the site.

“The FBI called me yesterday after being contacted by STIC,” Henness said Monday morning.

Local police called the number and was advised it is no longer in service. STIC tracked the number to South Carolina where it is associated with several people.

Henness said it became apparent the threat was unsubstantiated as the investigation continued into the evening hours Sunday. Investigators questioned the students at the sleepover and the answers were inconsistent.

“The stories did not corroborate each other,” said Henness. “We are continuing to investigate because of the inconsistencies.”

The chief said Paris 95 Superintendent Jeremy Larson was informed early during the investigation and was kept advised as investigators continue looking into the incident.

Henness said Monday there was a possibility of sending investigation reports to Edgar County State’s Attorney Mark Isaf for the possibility of filing any appropriate charges. That did not happen.

Henness confirmed Friday, March 9, at no time did the male in South Carolina ever make a threatening call to the students as first alleged. He added Larson talked with the students Monday after police concluded the investigation.

“They (the students) understand the seriousness of the issue, and we are going to leave it at that,” said Henness.

The students had little wiggle room when the investigators finished.

“The phone records spoke for themselves,” said Henness, one of the students did admit to fabricating the story. “All three said they were not scared. It was just reported to us after the mother found out about it.”

Given the uncertainty of school safety in this tense time, the authorities decided a strong presence was needed Monday just in case there was something to the message, even though it did not appear a credible threat.

“This turned out to be a non-threat, but we will continued to keep the safety of our students and the community as our number one priority,” said Henness.

Later in the week, the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, the Illinois Sheriff’s Association and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police issued a joint communiquĂ© condemning the practice of making false threats of violence at a school as a prank or for any other reason. (See the letters to the editor page 6A). According to the letter, such instances will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law when applicable.

(This story originally appeared Monday, March 6, on The Prairie Press website. This version includes updated information learned since that time.)

The Prairie Press

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