Crime & Courts

Providence runs on normal schedule after weekend threats, new threats made Monday

Providence High School will run on a normal schedule Monday after receiving threats over the weekend on social media, school staff said. But students can expect to see an added police presence on campus.

Despite the increased security, more threats were sent out Monday morning over Yik Yak, a phone app that allows users to post anonymously.

“This is where I become famous,” reads a 9:27 a.m. post, with an image of a gun.

Another, posted at 9:36 a.m., reads, “The itsty bitsy students came up the water spout down came my bullets and washed them all out.”

Ardrey Kell, another south Charlotte high school, also received a message over the weekend “in regards to causing harm to the students and staff at Ardrey Kell,” said Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools spokeswoman Stacy Sneed.

The principal at that school, David Switzer, sent a phone message Monday morning to parents about that threat sent on social media, although Sneed could not confirm whether Yik Yak was the platform used.

“We are taking these messages very seriously and have taken additional precautions to ensure that school runs safely and smoothly,” said Switzer in the message.

Students and staff reported that many students chose not to attend Providence High School on Monday.

“Attendance is light today,” said Renee McCoy, spokeswoman for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. But she added that the upcoming winter break (which starts next Monday) may also be contributing to lower attendance.

Yik Yak, an app that lets users remain anonymous and allows people to view comments, or yaks, posted within a few miles of them, was used Saturday to post this threat: “Providence students...enjoy this lovely weekend with your awesome friends and perfect family. come Monday, you will be repaid for all the pain you have caused me for years.”

Subsequent messages were sent Saturday evening, including one that said, “wait til Monday when I blow your brains out of your head especially a particular person I’m waiting to see In my sorrows !!!”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Capt. Rod Farley said that, “from our experience, these are not things that are advertised. They are usually just done.” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has taken over the case, he said, but CMPD is available in whatever capacity is needed, including bringing more officers on campus.

“But we take them all very seriously,” said Farley. “The biggest thing is we wanted to try to find out where these are coming from and if they’re legitimate or not.”

The district posted a statement on its Facebook page Sunday night, saying police and school officials “continue to work together to implement safety protocols and additional measures to support the safety of students and staff. Law enforcement has conducted a sweep of the school today and additional officers will be on campus throughout the week.”

On Monday, McCoy said she is hopeful law enforcement will determine who sent the threats.

“We feel very confident in the investigatory tools that are used by law enforcement,” said McCoy. “Law enforcement is investigating and will continue until this case is resolved.”

Several parents said Sunday they weren’t sure if they would send their children to school Monday and said they hoped to hear more from the district. The CMS statement gave Ruthanne Rhone, whose daughter is a freshman at the school, some comfort, but she still wanted more information, she said.

The district “did give a lot more information about what the police will be doing and how the students’ day will look a bit different from usual,” she said.

“What I didn't hear was much information about the investigation itself and why it’s taking so much time.”

She said she’d read about another threat make on Yik Yak, and a suspect was charged within 24 hours. “My question is since Yik Yak does give information out to law enforcement, why hasn't there been an arrest here.”

Marissa Parker, a freshman at the school, said she was “terrified” when she found out about the threat. But she’s leaning more toward wanting to go to school, especially given the many things she has to do Monday.

She said her concert band has its first concert of the year on Tuesday and there is a mandatory after-school rehearsal Monday. Marissa plays the flute.

“I’m stuck in this place where I don’t want to go in case it happens but if it doesn’t happen, I’ll have consequences for that as well,” she said. “I know a lot of my friends aren’t going because they don’t want to risk it.”

Marissa said she has “faith in the police and the school security.”

On Sunday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools responded to one student’s inquiry on the district’s Twitter account about missing school as a result of the threat. “That’s your prerogative but we doubt we’d be able to make it an excused absence,” the district tweeted. “We’re working to ensure safety in the school.”

Providence isn’t the first school to be the subject of an anonymous threat on Yik Yak.

In November, students at UNC Chapel Hill were notified by the school’s alert system of a school threat made on Yik Yak.

UNC student Daniel Berkman Fischbeck, 18, was later charged with making a false bomb report to a public building in connection with that case.

Similar cases have occurred in about a dozen other states.

“We all know that social media was never designed for this purpose,” said McCoy. “It was not designed to intimidate and threaten.”

Yik Yak did not return an emailed request for comment. Based in Atlanta, Yik Yak offers visitors a Frequently Asked Question resource. The first question addresses anonymous threats: “Can I post a threat with no repercussions?”

“No! Don’t be dumb. DON’T POST A THREAT,” the answer reads. “We take threats to safety very seriously and cooperate with local authorities if there’s a post that poses a threat to people.”

Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer