• 57°

Middle School lockdown

WINDSOR – At the March meeting of the Bertie County Commissioners, Sheriff John Holley vowed to get tough on false and phony threats telephoned into schools across the county.

In addition to putting law enforcement, parents, students, and school personnel on alert, these episodes also can cause fear, panic, and disruption of daily routine.

The latest incident occurred on Tuesday morning at Bertie Middle School on US 13 north when the threat of an active shooter, an armed individual, was phoned into the school shortly before 8:30 a.m. forcing a lockdown.

“Someone said, ‘I’m at the middle mchool, in the bathroom, I’m going to kill everyone, b***ches gonna die!’, and then they hung up,” Holley recounted.

Holley stated that Deputy McKenzie Williams was dispatched from nearby Bertie High School at 8:26 a.m. Williams was joined by Bertie County EMS, and other law enforcement (Sheriff’s Office, Windsor Police Department and Vidant Bertie Hospital Security), all in rapid succession.

Holley said he began an immediate investigation; tracing the number that was called, information phoned in to law enforcement, as well as working other leads.

“We went to the school to check everything out and pulled in a suspicious person of interest and spoke with them,” he continued.

Because the suspect is a juvenile, Holley could not give a name, only to say the suspect is 15 years of age.

“Hopefully, by the end of the day we’ll be doing a juvenile petition on this person,” he concluded. “They will be out of school at least 10 days pending long-term suspension.”

Holley said a similar 9-1-1 prank call was made to Colerain Elementary School last week, but he would not say if the two incidents are related; other than that the investigation is ongoing.

“We’re not exempt,” Holley declared. “I take every single one of these calls seriously as if it was the real thing. If you have a loved one out there, people need to know what’s going on. I know schools won’t say a lot, but at the Sheriff’s Office we don’t mind telling them what’s going on.

Pending the investigation on the latest threat, Holley says all ‘prank calls’ that have been received have resulted in juvenile petitions being issued. But he also is issuing a warning to the public.

“The first thing we say is please don’t do anything like this,” he cautioned. “It scares people who have loved ones out there; officers trying to get to these schools to make certain citizens are safe could have an accident driving at a high rate of speed. A lot is involved when these things occur, and we take every one of these calls like the real deal.”

The Bertie Sheriff’s Office now has made good on a vow to seek justice in every single one of these incidents.

The latest phony telephone threat is the second that has occurred at the middle school.  Holley told the Bertie County Commissioners back in March that the school received a bomb threat on January 12.  After law enforcement exacted the appropriate propriety at the time no threat was found.  Following an investigation, the Sheriff said a juvenile petition was drawn, carried through the judicial process, and the matter, involving two female students, was finished through the court system.

Another phone threat incident occurred Feb. 7.

“Once this happens – early in the morning or late at night – my deputies have to be out at the school at 6-6:30 (in the morning) to check the school first, check everyone entering the buildings, check school buses, everything,” he said.

Holley said in addition to phone calls, these threats also come to law enforcement’s attention through social media.

At the March meeting he also stated that in addition to schools, there had been a threat made at the Bertie County Courthouse and the Bertie County Schools’ Central Office. However, neither of those incidents turned up anything substantial; but he also said in the aftermath, the public should be immediately updated.

“We need to go back and let folks know someone has been arrested,” he said. “It will help ease your mind and make you more comfortable about sending your child to school.

“We’re on top of these things, and we take them very seriously,” he observed. “Just because we’re in a rural area doesn’t mean it won’t happen here. But we train for this every year and we are ready. It’s just sad that it’s come to this.”

Also Tuesday, the Bertie County Government Facebook page posted an “all-clear” at 9:20 a.m.

“The Bertie County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call this morning at Bertie Middle School pertaining to an armed individual on the school’s campus,” the post read.

“Within minutes, Bertie County Sheriff’s Office, as well as surrounding law enforcement agencies, were on the scene. After following the appropriate protocol, it was deemed that NO THREAT was present, and that the call placed to the Sheriff’s Office was a PRANK CALL.

“A person of interest was identified, and the Sheriff’s Office will explore the possibility of charges against the individual. We’d like to thank the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office for their excellent response. Please like and share this notice so that we can help prevent misinformation from circulating around the County,” the statement read.

Bertie County Schools issued a robo-call update that addressed Tuesday’s incident.