Berrien County Sheriff discusses false threats made following Oxford shooting

Published 3:04 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2021

NILES — In the wake of the Oxford High School shooting last week, school districts and law enforcement agencies statewide are taking precautions as threats of more violence continue to pour in.

Those threats have found their way to southwest Michigan as the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office has been notified of several false threats made to districts in the county, including Watervliet Public Schools, Coloma Community School District, New Buffalo Area Schools and St. Joseph Public Schools.

St. Joseph High School was dismissed Tuesday morning due to a threat written in two of the bathrooms at the school.

Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey said that any and all threats are taken seriously and will be investigated and forwarded to the prosecutor for further review.

“They’re going to be held responsible,” he said. “When they violate one of these laws, they’re going to be prosecuted. These types of threats are not a joke and are a crime. … We’re trying to get information to the parents and children through the media that if you’re going to do something like this, you’re gonna get in trouble. Schools are taking appropriate actions by securing their school or, on a few occasions, shutting down for the day until properly investigated so the children are safe.”

“These types of threats are not a joke and are a crime,” said Berrien County Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli in a Dec. 3 news release. “If evidence is presented to the Prosecutor’s Office that meets the elements of a crime, charges will be filed. Threatening the safety of students and teachers in our schools is serious, and we will hold those responsible accountable.”

Bailey said the sheriff’s department has dealt with school threats over the years, but nothing like the magnitude and frequency experienced in the past week.

“They’ve all been investigated and found to not be credible,” Bailey said. “There will possibly be some young people held accountable for making those threats on social media. The magnitude of threats across the state has been very disturbing for everybody involved. They bring anxiety to the school, teachers, students and parents. … This time of year, we should be celebrating the birth of Christ and not having these social media things happening that bring anxiety to everybody.”

Bailey hopes that more students speak up about suspicious behavior and activity.

“We need to make sure students don’t stay quiet,” he said. “If they hear a threat, they need to report it. When something terrible happens, kids will hear something but often won’t report it.”

While students play a pivotal role in the prevention of mass shootings and other acts of violence, Bailey argued that parents being vigilant is equally important.

“Parents need to know what their children are doing,” Bailey said. “If you’re going to give young people phones, you need to monitor their phones and what they’re looking at, what they’re sending. Until they become an adult, they don’t have a right to privacy. You as a parent have to monitor what your children are seeing and doing to make sure something is not going wrong with their lives.”

Bailey cited social networking service TikTok and the trends that circulate it as a means of spreading violence and damaging property.

“We’ve had students tear down bathrooms as part of a TikTok challenge,” he said. “[Parents] need to make sure their children don’t get caught up in that.”