Crime

Threatening note found at Manatee High School is a credible threat, cops say

A threatening note was found at Manatee High School on Thursday, and it is being actively investigated in the wake of a fatal school shooting in South Florida this week.

The note warns that at 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22, a shooting will occur on the Manatee High School campus, 902 33rd St. Court W., Bradenton, according to a press release issued by Bradenton Police Department Detective Sgt. Dennis Stahley.

“Proactive measures have been set in place as well as increased police presence at Manatee High and all local schools,” Stahley said.

Stahley said detectives are “actively pursuing” leads in the case.

Mike Barber, spokesman for the School District of Manatee County, confirmed the threatening note was found at the school and an investigation is ongoing.

Assistant Police Chief Paul McWade said authorities are investigating the note as a credible threat. McWade said the note was found in a bathroom on school grounds around 10 a.m. Thursday.

Barber said he could not elaborate on who found the note, but said the district is emphasizing that “any threat made against our school is going to be taken seriously and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”

A message notifying parents of the incident was sent out Friday morning, Barber said.

Part of a text message from a student at Manatee High School to a parent said “a very detailed note” was found in a school bathroom Thursday. “(T)hey’re looking out for anyone looking suspicious,” the text continued, according to a screenshot of the message obtained by the Bradenton Herald.

In a message on social media, the school district said, in part: “Social media threats have appeared in the last 24 hours mentioning some of our high schools. We want you to know the School District of Manatee County takes all of these threats seriously and they are all reported to local law enforcement agencies. The district works closely with law enforcement to investigate the source of the threats and the credibility of the threats.”

“Student and staff safety is and always will be our top priority,” the statement continued.

Anyone with information about the investigation is asked to call Bradenton police at 941-932-9300 or Detective Dennis French at 941-932-9329. Information can be sent by email to crimetips@cityofbradenton.com or by calling Crime Stoppers at 866-634-8477.

Manatee County school campuses have seen an increased law enforcement presence since Thursday, following the fatal shootings Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Authorities have arrested 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz on 17 counts of premeditated murder.

In Palmetto, Police Chief Scott Tyler said officers have increased their presence at schools and are patrolling school campuses within the city limits.

In addition to the extra officers, school administrators were instructed to increase the presence of officers at the county’s elementary schools. Barber has said this is necessary because a group of school resource officers are rotated between the elementary schools, rather than having one officer at each school like the middle and high schools in the county.

Thursday night, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office announced they had received reports of a picture implying a threat to Florida schools circulating social media, but deputies learned the photo was sent out by a ninth-grader in South Carolina. He has been charged with disturbing schools.

Threats are not just showing up locally.

In Daytona Beach, a 20-year-old Florida high school student was arrested Thursday under the Baker Act after police said he made threats on social media against his school, Mainland High School.

A 14-year-old Heritage Middle School student was arrested Friday after threatening to “blow up” and “shoot up” a classroom, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The student reportedly told deputies he was “joking” and did not have intentions to hurt anyone.

Police in Gainesville arrested a 17-year-old student at Newberry Christian Community School after he made threats about committing a school shooting Thursday, according to WCJB TV20. Police found a folding pocket knife with the student and charged him with possession of a weapon on school grounds.

Why are there so many threats to schools after a tragic shooting? It’s complicated, Centerstone of Florida CEO Melissa Larkin-Skinner said.

It could be one, or a combination of things, she said, like joking and not thinking of the consequences, being impulsive, feeling ignored or seeking attention. Everyone is different.

“It’s very complex, and I think the bottom line is we don’t do enough for our kids because they are just inundated with negative things,” Larkin-Skinner said.

“We seem to be living in a world where people want attention — and they want attention whether it’s good or bad, it doesn’t seem to matter.”

Larkin-Skinner said children should be better prepared for the world, equipped with coping mechanisms, the ability to problem solve and address issues with self-esteem. The best place to do that, she said, is at school.

“Our best chance is to collaborate with schools and mental health providers to help kids cope and have a good quality of life,” Larkin-Skinner said. “We need the community behind it. This and every community. ... You know the saying ‘it takes a village?’ We need to be the village.”

Bradenton Herald reporter Jessica De Leon contributed to this report.

Sara Nealeigh: 941-745-7081, @saranealeigh

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