Police to 'stay close' after reported threat to 3 Chapel Hill schools

Three Chapel Hill schools, including Chapel Hill High School, will have extra security on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.
Three Chapel Hill schools, including Chapel Hill High School, will have extra security on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.

Police will continue to "stay close" to Chapel Hill High School and two nearby schools after a reported threat to the high school.

Ran Northam, a spokesman for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said police will maintain a heightened presence near the high school, Seawell Elementary School and Smith Middle School and monitor them for as long as Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools leaders think it's needed.

The three schools are next to each other off of Seawell School Road.

There was a heavy police presence at the schools Tuesday, a day after a small group of girls, all under the age of 10, reported that a man threatened to "shoot up" the high school.

"A similar presence will be there tomorrow (Wednesday, April 11) and the Chapel Hill Police Department will continue to stay in close contact with the schools and to monitor the situation," Northam said.

Voicemail questioned

Meanwhile, CHCCS has received criticism from some parents who took issue with the way the district handled the announcement.

Tori Ekstrand complained in an email message to Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger about how the news of the threat was shared with parents, contending that a voicemail from Principal Sulura Jackson lacked "importance and urgency" and carried the same tone as one about a "snow day."

"The way this threat was communicated was unacceptable," Ekstrand wrote. "At about 4:30 p.m., we got a voicemail from the principal … an oddly sanguine one in tone. I’m not looking for all the alarms to ring, but I do hope our next principal shows some acknowledgment of the seriousness of such a communication."

She also questioned the timing of a robo call from Superintendent Pamela Baldwin requesting donations for "Teacher Appreciation Week."

"While this is important, did anyone think about the timing of this while parents at home are thinking about whether or not to send their child to school?" Ekstrand asked.

School board Chairwoman Ran Dasi, who has two children at Chapel Hill High, said Jackson was taking care to not "alarm parents" because the reported incident had not been verified.

In a email message to parents, Dasi noted that news of the potential threat is "very unsettling" in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting where 17 students and teachers died when accused gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School opened fire.

"Regarding the potential threat to Chapel Hill High, we understand that it is very unsettling to hear news like this anytime but particularly in this time of heightened awareness of school concerns. Several board members are parents of students at CHHS, so we personally relate to your concern," Dasi said.

Man with backpack

School system officials said the girls reported being approached by a man Monday while on a walking trail behind the three schools.

The girls said the man, wearing a camouflage backpack, said he was going to do harm at Chapel Hill High on Tuesday, according to the school district.

Here's the message Jackson sent to parents:

"We recently received a second hand report of a man and woman walking in the woods near our school. Reportedly, the man ​told four young girls, all under the age of ten, he was going to shoot up the school on Tuesday," Jackson said. "The man stated that he had a gun in the camouflage backpack he was carrying. We cannot confirm the credibility of this threat​."