Police have arrested a 13-year-old boy who is a student at Chief Umtuch Middle School for allegedly making threats that prompted officials to close five public schools and one private school in Battle Ground on Wednesday.
Schools will reopen Thursday at the usual times, Gregg Herrington, Battle Ground Public Schools spokesman, announced late Wednesday.
The teen was arrested after a 3:30 p.m. interview Wednesday with detectives from the Battle Ground Police Department, said Battle Ground Police Lt. Roy Butler. He said detectives were led to the teen by information provided to his department, Vancouver Police Department and the FBI.
The teen, whose name was not released, is accused of threatening to use explosives against a teacher and Chief Umtuch Middle School on Sept. 11.
“Officers have determined that the suspect did not possess the means to carry out any of the threats that were made,” a news release issued by the police department said.
Police also said there was no evidence that suggests others were involved. The teen’s computer was seized for examination.
The teen was released to the custody of his parents, whom police said were cooperating with detectives. The case file will be forwarded to the Clark County juvenile prosecutor for charges of felony harassment.
When asked why the teen was released to his parents, Butler said, “He’s a 13-year-old who’s obviously having some problems. Generally, in our county, unless there’s some aggravated circumstances or a serious crime of violence, we don’t normally take juveniles that young into custody.”
The threats came via email, officials said. The first was a suicide threat. The second threatened harm to the teacher and the school.
“It has been determined the young man was not suicidal,” Butler said.
Schools share campus
The threats led to the closure of Chief Umtuch Middle School, along with Captain Strong Primary School, Summit View Middle School, CAM Academy and Battle Ground High School. The schools share a large campus in downtown Battle Ground. The combined enrollment of those schools is 3,850 students. The closures affected 29 percent of the district’s 12,900 students.
Firm Foundation Christian School south of Battle Ground also closed due to the threats. The private school is three miles from Chief Umtuch Middle School. A spokeswoman for the private school did not return The Columbian’s phone calls Wednesday.
The closure also meant that Battle Ground Community Education classes scheduled for Wednesday at any of the school campuses were canceled.
The public schools were checked on Wednesday by four or five police officers and school staffers, officials said. Nothing of concern was found. Butler said that because there was no threat made to Firm Foundation Christian School, police did not sweep that school.
Dispatch records show that the Battle Ground Police Department received a call of a threat at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday to 700 N.W. Ninth St., which is the address of Chief Umtuch Middle School. Butler confirmed that the call was what launched the investigation.
The school district announced the closure in a media release with a time stamp of 12:56 a.m. The district sent an automated phone message at 5 a.m. Wednesday to all households with students who attend the five schools to let families know school would be closed on Wednesday, Herrington said.
School officials said that the Battle Ground Police Department had declined to elaborate on the threats, saying that the information could jeopardize the investigation, but the school district described them as “credible.”
At a press conference, Butler said the threat was not related to a February bomb threat at Battle Ground High School.
Representatives from Vancouver Public Schools and the Evergreen Public Schools reported no security threats to any of their schools Wednesday.
Thursday, the Battle Ground district says there will be an increased police presence at schools.
Janette Chumley, who has one child attending Battle Ground High School and two others at Daybreak Primary, said that the news was scary, especially with it being Sept. 11.
“I’m not sure if I want to send my younger two to Daybreak and that’s not even an area school to Chief (Umtuch),” she said in a text message.
Butler said parents should be at ease about sending their children back to school today.
“We have determined through our investigation he did not have the means or the capability to carry out the threats. There are no other suspects involved. We have the computer. We’ll be doing more investigating. As far as we can tell, this will close the matter.”
The school district posted a letter to parents on its website Wednesday night at http://www.battlegroundps.org/. In part, it reads:
“The decision to close school on Wednesday was an extremely difficult one. It was made with thorough deliberation and collaboration among school principals, district officials and the Battle Ground Police Department. We did not want to overreact, but, at the same time, we did not want to jeopardize in any way the safety of our kids.”
Suicide Prevention Week
The community in north Clark County has been plagued with youth suicides for the past few years.
Sept. 8-14 was proclaimed Suicide Prevention Week by the Clark County commissioners, Vancouver City Council and Battle Ground City Council. All of them joined Gov. Jay Inslee in the proclamation aimed at raising awareness about suicide prevention. World Suicide Prevention Day was Sept. 10.
The Washington State Department of Health reports that suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death in Washington, the second-leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24 and third-leading cause of death among people ages 10-14.
Schools to re-open Thursday; letter to parents issued
The following letter to parents is from Battle Ground School District administrators
September 11, 2013
As you know, a series of threats against students and staff at Chief Umtuch Middle School prompted the closure of five Battle Ground schools and cancellation of Community Education classes at those schools, Wednesday, September 11. The Battle Ground Police Department acted promptly to conduct a thorough investigation in collaboration with the FBI and Vancouver Police to identify the source of written messages that threatened students and staff. (Click “read more.”)
District officials became aware of the threats last night and immediately called the police. The decision to close school on Wednesday was an extremely difficult one. It was made with thorough deliberation and collaboration among school principals, district officials, and the Battle Ground Police Department. We did not want to overreact, but, at the same time, we did not want to jeopardize in any way the safety of our kids. We believe closing school was the right thing to do and would make the same decision again given the same information.
Detectives from the Battle Ground Police Department conducted an interview of a 13 year old student from Chief Umtuch. The suspect has been arrested for making the threats and his computer has been confiscated. Officers have determined that the suspect did not possess the means to carry out any of the threats that were made. There is no evidence at this time to show that other suspects were involved. The case file will be forwarded to the Clark County Juvenile Prosecutor.
We are concerned about how students are feeling about threats and understand some may experience anxiety or concern about returning to school. It is important that our students feel safe at school and we want you to know we have counselors and administrative staff available to talk with students at any time. We will make every effort to connect school counseling services to all students in need.
Thank you for your patience and understanding surrounding this difficult situation. We truly believe our schools are safe and look forward to seeing our students back in school tomorrow. We also believe Battle Ground is a place of great learning for all. May we now return to that positive learning environment.
Battle Ground School District Administrators
Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools; email@example.com
Mark Bowder and Paul Suarez contributed to this story.