ELYRIA – At three separate times in the last week, an Elyria Schools’ student penned a “hit list” and — in one case — a 10-year-old girl also brought a steak knife to an elementary school.
Now, school officials and law enforcement are ramping up efforts to identify root causes while also disciplining young students under the district’s zero-tolerance policy.
Elyria Police Capt. Chris Costantino said Wednesday that each of the incidents are very concerning to officers, who have charged the 10-year-old girl as well as a 12-year-old boy and 14-year-old female in recent days with multiple charges including aggravated menacing and making terroristic threats. The juveniles are in the Lorain County Juvenile Detention Center pending action by the county Juvenile Court.
“This type of frequency is certainly concerning to us,” he said. “It will not be tolerated through the police or through the schools. And, if there is some correlation and students feel like they are being bullied and have to protect themselves, we have to make sure there is a clear avenue for these kids to go to so this does not continue. Three incidents in the past few days is obviously three too many.”
District spokeswoman Amy Higgins said district administrators will meet with Elyria police today to discuss this latest pattern and ask of themselves a very important question: Are the programs, resources and steps already in place in the schools working to ensure a safe and secure school environment?
“We are always talking about this, but it’s time for in-depth discussion,” she said. “We want to talk about the latest patterns that we are seeing – the flippant comments about shooting up schools, making hit lists and bringing weapons to school. It is a disturbing pattern and we are seeing it more and more.”
Here is a breakdown of what police have said has happened recently:
- On April 19, police arrested a 14-year-old Eastern Heights Middle School student for writing down a list that she referred to as “hit list” with students names. The female student told police she did it for a friend.
- On April 24, police returned to Eastern Heights and arrested a 12-year-old boy for aggravated menacing and terroristic threats. He also reportedly wrote a list and stated he wanted to kill some fellow students. The boy told police it started with another student asking him to get out of a seat. He said he felt like he was disrespected.
- Also on April 24, police were called to Franklin Elementary School where a 10-year-old girl was found with a steak knife in her book bag. Apparently, the student showed several students the knife and made comments about wanting to harm classmates. She and another 10-year-old reportedly made a “hit list” of students that they wanted to harm. When officers talked to them, the students said they made the list because people were “mean and not nice to them.”
As a result of the multiple incidents, Elyria sent out an automated district-wide call to parents around 6 p.m. Tuesday calling for parents to speak to students about making such threats.
“The goal of last night’s message was not to just inform parents, but hopefully start conversations at home that it is very serious,” Higgins said Wednesday. “There are consequences to behaviors and it is not a joke anymore. We have to be serious about this. We have to treat each other with kindness and humanity, and it’s essential that kids understand that all choices come with consequences.”
While each child now faces criminal charges, Costantino said Elyria police do not want to stop there.
“We also want to ask questions,” he said. “Why are students this angry? Why are they expressing their ideas in such a violent way? It is very concerning to us… We need to know if there is something we need to do to send a message and make it clear: This has to stop. We can do that and still have the goal of finding out the underlying cause, getting the kids help and giving them the tools to better express themselves.’’
Costantino said once juveniles go to court, there are a lot more tools made available to help them. However, the conversation has to also include prevention.
Higgins said the district has extensive resources in place in all schools to address bullying and school safety.
Here is a list of the various student resources:
- Anti-bullying task force in all K-8 schools
- Rachel’s Challenge in all elementary schools
- PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Support), which offers state supported resources, training for teachers, students on daily behavioral interventions
- PAX (funded through the county mental health board for K-3), offers training to staff and students in dealing with emotions
- Sandy Hook Promise, which trains students and adults to know the signs of gun violence
- Parent involvement activities through title funding in all schools
- Guidance counselors in all schools
- School psychologists, a shared resource in all schools
- Social workers/home liaisons, shared resource in all schools (four total full-time employees)
- School nurses and health aides, shared resource in all schools (five nurses, three health aides)
- School resource officer with an Elyria Police Department partnership
- Community based partnerships daily and as needed: Lorain County Crisis Team, Nord Center, Applewood Centers, Bellefaire JCB, Lorain County Mental Health Board, Save Our children, Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Lorain County Urban League, Alcohol & Drug Addiction Services (ADAS) Board of Lorain County, The LCADA Way and many others along with relationships with local churches.
“All of the schools are working hard to have these programs and resources in place knowing that any of these things can happen anywhere and at any time,” Higgins said. “… Even when there is not a crisis and we are constantly working with police and our partners to share information and better the school environment for all.”
Also, new this year, Higgins said the district has parted with Safer Schools Ohio to provide a district-wide anonymous tip line that allows parents, students and community members to call or text tips to 844-723-3764 (844-SAFEROH)
“We haven’t had any referrals from that yet, but it’s another option for people who don’t want to use traditional means of providing information,” she said. “We still encourage people call 911 in emergency situations.”
However, as Tuesday’s call to parents indicated, Higgins said the district is not alone in the work to prevent and stop similar incidents.
“We can definitely see with the changing society that there needs to be more of a wraparound approach with the schools,” she said. “We have various partnerships in the community, but the home-school connection is essential.”
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