PUBLIC SAFETY, SCHOOLS

UPDATE: Police charge two teens with threatening ‘violence’ at West Salem High School

UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. SATURDAY, DEC. 31 – Officials at the Salem-Keizer School District notified all parents in the district about the threat.

A “threat of violence” when students return to West Salem High School after the holiday has led to the arrest of two teenagers, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday evening.

A 16-year-old from the Salem area was arrested “for the criminal threats directed to West Salem High School,” the sheriff’s office said in a press statement. The release said a 15-year-old was also “involved” and also charged.

School officials said they were alerted to the threat on Saturday, Dec. 24. The sheriff’s office said it worked with the FBI beginning Tuesday, Dec. 27, to investigate “a specific threat made by person(s) via a social media account indicating this act of violence was going to occur the day school was back in session from the holiday break.”

School resumes Tuesday, Jan. 3.

“For extra precaution and reassurance of our commitment to safety, we will have an increased security present at school on Tuesday,” according to Aaron Harada, district communications manager responding in an email Saturday afternoon to questions from Salem Reporter.

Classes have been out since Friday, Dec. 16.

The statement provided no details about the threat.

Investigators tracked the social media post to a home “east of Salem” where the 16-year-old boy and the parents were contacted. The teenager is home schooled, police said, while the 15-year-old boy is a student at West Salem, which has 1,705 students.

They were arrested on Thursday, Dec. 29. Police typically do not release the names of juveniles accused of crimes.

The case has been referred to Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson and Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton for possible criminal charges.

The threat prompted Superintendent Christy Perry to send a message to all parents in the district, alerting them to the matter. She asked parents to share the information.

“We need your support in reinforcing the seriousness of this message with your students and those within our community,” Perry wrote. “We hope you will partner with us in ending threats against our schools.”

She urged parents to discuss the consequences of theats.

“No threat is ever a joke and the things we do online do not remain anonymous. Making a threat is a poor choice that could impact them for years to come,” she wrote.

Carlos Ruiz, West Salem High School principal, echoed Perry’s message in his own notice to parents.

“We know that this is a very difficult message to hear and process as a parent/guardian or a student and we anticipate there will be unease and anxiety that naturally comes from being at school after a report like this,” Ruiz wrote.

He shared plans for increased security when classes resume Tuesday.

In its statement, the sheriff’s office said, Making any kind of threat whether in person or online is illegal and has serious consequences. We are committed to always working together along with our community to diligently and swiftly find out who is responsible and take the appropriate action as was done in this case.”

Police and school officials across Oregon have stepped up their responses to threats of any kind against schools.

State officials launched the SafeOregon program in 2017 to encourage people to report any threat.

“The goal of SafeOregon is to prevent school safety threats from occurring by providing schools and communities with a relevant tool for reporting potential threats,” according to the program website. “Encouraging reporting at schools or online leads to a culture of safety. When a potential safety threat is reported, we have the chance to prevent violence.”

Tips can be reported to SafeOregon by phone, text, email or on its website.

Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected]

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Les Zaitz is editor and CEO of Salem Reporter. He co-founded the news organization in 2018. He has been a journalist in Oregon for nearly 50 years in both daily and community newspapers and digital news services. He is nationally recognized for his commitment to local journalism. He also is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.