WESTERLY — A 16-year-old Westerly High School student was arrested Tuesday, four days after a janitor found a threatening message written on a boys bathroom stall in Babcock Hall.
The message named four boys who would be shot on Oct. 1, but police and school officials said the threat was “not considered credible after investigation.”
One of the “targeted” boys turned out to be the perpetrator, the authorities said. The Westerly police charged him with disorderly conduct and two counts of vandalism.
The parents of the four students, three with full names written with pencil on the stall and the fourth who had only a first name, were all contacted, said Police Chief Edward St. Clair.
One of the parents, Nicole Hill, said she was driving when she received the call Friday night informing her that her son was on a “kill list,” as she described it. “I had to pull over,” she said Thursday.
Hill said she would not allow her son to attend the school dance Saturday night, fearing for her son’s well-being, even though the threat referred to a later date. She said she wouldn’t let her teenage son out of her sight all weekend and felt uncomfortable allowing him to go to classes on Monday. Hill said she was particularly upset because the threat involved a firearm. But she said police detectives told her that there was no reason for her son to stay out of school, and she felt safer when the police found out who had done it and made an arrest.
St. Clair said his department promptly notified the families of those named despite finding that the threat was not credible after an investigation by law enforcement and school officials.
But at least one parent, Melanie Garrappa, said the entire student body and parents should have been notified. Garrappa took to social media to express her dissatisfaction with the way the incident was handled. She said that after learning about it through word of mouth, she worried about her daughter attending Saturday night’s dance. The girl did go to the dance.
“This is why we have a mistrust in the system,” Garrappa said. She said parents received a districtwide phone message regarding an upcoming open house, but were not informed about a potentially dangerous issue at school. Garrappa also said she saw no increase in police presence at the dance.
St. Clair said he called for extra patrols inside the dance as well as in the area of the high school as a precaution despite a strong belief that there was no reason to be concerned about the welfare of those attending the event.
The chief said the situation was handled immediately and appropriately by school officials without creating panic. Protocol was followed precisely, he said, and had there been a credible threat, it would have been handled according to procedures establisehd by school administrators and police.
School Superintendent Roy Seitsinger Jr. echoed St. Clair’s assessment of the situation.
“There was an issue that was handled cooperatively between the Westerly PD and the high school administration and staff,” Seitsinger said in an emailed statement Thursday afternoon. “An investigation led to charging a minor with disorderly conduct. The process did not lead to a determination of any credible threat. The vigilance of the entire high school staff and the quality cooperation of the Westerly Police Department worked very well.”