BAR HARBOR — A 17-year-old male Mount Desert Island High School student who lives in Franklin was arrested late Saturday night after allegedly posting a threat on a social media platform to “shoot up” the school on Monday.
The suspect, whose name was not released because he is a minor, was charged with Class C terrorizing, a felony, and transported to the Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston.
A Hancock resident called the Hancock County Regional Communications Center at 8:32 p.m. Saturday to report that she had received the threat of a shooting via Snapchat.
“The woman reported that the author of the threat, a 17-year-old male from Franklin and former student of Mount Desert Island High School, stated he was going to shoot up the MDI High School in Bar Harbor on Monday,” Hancock County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release.
MDI High School Principal Matt Haney said Monday that rather than being a former student, the suspect was currently enrolled.
Immediately after receiving the report of the threat, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation in conjunction with the Bar Harbor Police Department. Sheriff’s deputies, assisted by the Maine State Police, took the suspect into custody at his home at about 11:30 p.m.
In a Bar Harbor Police Department report on the incident, Officer Jerrod Hardy wrote, “Over the course of the investigation, several other parents of MDI High School students contacted Bar Harbor PD to report similar complaints involving this male juvenile.”
Lt. Christopher Thornton of the Sheriff’s Office told the Islander Monday that no firearms were found in the suspect’s possession.
“There were firearms in the home where he resided with his family, but he didn’t have access to them,” Thornton said.
Haney sent an email to students, parents and staff Sunday night informing them of the threat and arrest.
“Administration is currently in the process of conducting a school-based investigation of this matter as well,” he said.
“Increased security measures will be employed in response to this information in keeping the safety of our students, staff and school as our foremost priority.”
The threat and the school’s response to it were a major topic of discussion at meetings of both the high school board and the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) board Monday night.
Haney said he and MDIRSS Superintendent Marc Gousse spent much of Sunday gathering information about the incident, working on a message to students, parents and staff, and deciding whether to hold classes at the high school on Monday.
“As information became available to us, it became clear what to do,” he said. “Still, we would never put ourselves in a situation where we were wondering. I want people to know that when we’re making these decisions, we’re going to be very cautious.”
Several school board members expressed frustration that so many rumors spread on social media Sunday and that they didn’t have solid information to give parents who contacted them.
“I must have had 20 emails (Sunday) night from angry parents saying, ‘I need more information,’” said board member Kristie Losquadro.
But she and others said they understood that school policies and confidentiality laws prohibited school officials from releasing all of information they might want to.
“I want you to know that, as a parent and a board member, I have 100 percent confidence in you,” Losquadro said to Haney and other administrators. “I have never been so impressed with an administration and how much compassion you have for these kids.”
Tracy Miller, the mother of a high school senior, criticized school officials at the MDIRSS board meeting for not doing enough to improve school safety. Referring to the March 6 public forum on school safety and the promise by Gousse and others to hold additional forums, she said, “There has been zero follow-up for parents regarding the safety forums. No surveys or questionnaires have been sent home to gather our safety concern. And no follow-up safety forum is on the calendar.”
At the March 6 forum, Miller’s daughter, Mackenzie, and several other students said they felt especially unsafe and vulnerable in the band room.
“There has been little to nothing done in the band room,” Tracy Miller told the school board Monday. “There have been no coverings put on the windows, and the doors still only lock from the outside.
“My daughter and her friends spend a lot of time in this room, so if it’s not a priority for the school to get it done, I would be happy to donate my time and money and get it done tomorrow.”
All of the high school’s outside doors are to be locked during the school day, with everyone being buzzed in at the main entrance by a member of the office staff. But it is not uncommon for students inside the building to open doors for friends or others who want to come in. Administrators have said stopping that practice is a simple way to improve security.
Miller complained Monday that “students are still letting friends into the school through unsecured doors.”
Later, at the start of the high school board meeting, Mackenzie Miller said, “We can’t rely on the students in the high school to not let other kids inside; we will continue to do it. You can’t rely on us. Without having more information in safety emails, the kids don’t know who’s not safe to let in, and we will continue letting kids in.”
As the discussion continued, MDIRSS board member Tammy Tripler said, “I don’t think it’s too much to ask students to take ownership of simple security measures like keeping the doors closed.”
Board member Heidi Lawson agreed.
“If they are truly afraid or concerned, to me it would be kind of a no-brainer,” she said.
But Losquadro said habits are hard to break.
“You’re asking kids to change their patterns of behavior, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” she said.
“The parents and students who say, ‘You haven’t done anything yet …,’ well, nothing happens like that. Everybody has to know that change takes time.”
Haney said he understands the sense of urgency on the part of some parents and students.
“I understand the level of frustration that it appears nothing is being done. It’s not true, and we are making a plan,” he said.
In response to the complaint about band room security, Haney said, “We are evaluating all of our weak points, and instead of addressing them in a haphazard way, we’re looking at them as a whole. We want to make sure that when we do something, we do it the right way.”
As for the promise to hold more public forums on school safety, Gousse and MDIRSS board Chairman Heather Jones said they are planning the next one and will announce the date soon.
Gousse assured board members and others that safety and security in all of the MDIRSS schools are his top priorities.
“But the changes we need to make to respond to what’s happening around us are not going to happen overnight,” he said. “I know that we’re in a better place than we were a year ago, but we’re not where I believe we need to be or want to be.”
Gousse said he and other school officials will continue to “listen to people, incorporate best practices and elevate the expectation of vigilance.”
Updated on April 11 at 10:43 a.m.