Threats to school: law enforcement warns of severe penalties

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A number of schools in central Texas have faced threats made against their campuses in recent weeks.

Akins Early College High School was the last to face a threat on Thursday. The school was put on hold after a threat on social media.

“The fear people have is a valid fear and we take these threats seriously,” Hutto Police Chief Jefferey Yarbrough said.

Yarbrough, who has no affiliation with the Akins incident, said that in the many years he has been in law enforcement, he has seen a number of threats against schools and that are all taken very seriously.

“If a person makes a threat to another person, we can file a complaint against them for terrorism threat,” Yarbrough said. “If they make a threat that scares the public or a significant portion of the public, we can take action against it which is a third degree felony.”

Yarbrough said even young children can be punished if they make a threat.

“If you are ten or older in the state of Texas and you make a threat or commit a criminal offense, you may be arrested by law enforcement and taken into custody by juvenile services,” said Yarbrough.

Just last week, the Lockhart Police Department arrested a 12-year-old girl in connection with a threat made at Lockhart High School. She now faces terrorism threat charges.

Lt. Conor Mitchell of Hutto PD said officers are trained to determine whether a threat is credible or not. Once a threat has been identified, they go through a process to determine who is responsible. He said even people who think a social media post can’t be tracked are wrong.

“We have intelligence assets at our disposal where, even if someone thinks they’re covering up the device they’re using, we can still be there on their doorstep,” Mitchell said.

Rickey Jones of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office said that even if someone makes a joking threat, there are always consequences.

“For kids who might do this, they need to know it will be taken seriously,” Jones said. “They (law enforcement) take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach, they treat every threat as if it were a legitimate threat. They investigate and they come out and be diligent and talk to the kids and walk through the school and use all the precautions they need in case the threat is legitimate.

According to data collected by TEA from school districts and reported to KXAN, nearly 67,500 threats were made in the last school year. Of these, approximately 17% posed a threat and the individuals were referred to the authorities for intervention. Only about 3% actually posed an imminent threat. The vast majority of reports – 69% – posed no real threat to the school district.

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