SIDNEY — Comments which were supposed to be a joke have resulted in the suspension of two Sidney High School students.
“I had a student come into my office,” said SHS Resource Officer Deputy Anthony Cipollone of the Tuesday morning incident which began around 10 a.m. “I have a relationship with the kids where they’ll tell me anything.”
The student, said Cipollone, overhead something in the hallway which raised concerns.
“The student overheard someone else say, ‘Something was going down in the cafeteria.’ When the student asked what was going on, another student jumped in a said, ‘He’s going to go shoot up the cafeteria.’ The student couldn’t make a positive identification on the students who made the comments,” Cipollone said.
Cipollone then contacted his supervisor at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Cori Steiner. The decision was made to place plainclothes detectives in the school while Cipollone continued to investigate the threat.
“I began my investigation to locate the students,” said Cipollone.
Once the students were located, Cipollone learned that the two students were joking about the incident.
“I talked to them and they said they were talking about something else entirely. The first kid was eavesdropping on them” and they decided to turn the comments into a joke.
“I explained to both of them that you can’t make jokes like that,” he said.
In addition to having plainclothes detectives in the cafeteria, school employees who comprise the First Responder team were also in the there during lunch time, said Superintendent John Scheu. For security reasons, he declined to comment on whether the First Responder team members were armed or not.
“There were no incidents during the lunch hour and the students allegedly making these remarks have been interviewed at this time (12:45 p.m.) and will be disciplined accordingly,” said Scheu.
Both students, said Scheu, have received 10-day suspensions from school and it has been recommended that they be expelled. They will be criminally charged for the incident.
Scheu said Cipollone was able to identify the students late in the lunch period.
“The reason we did not put any word out to staff, parents or news media (when we first learned of the situation) is that we did not want to cause any panic as we felt the plans we had in place were quite sufficient, and before putting any word out (we) wanted to be accurate in what was said,” Scheu said. “I believe this situation was handled very well and professionally and how we are trained to respond to such a situation. I was apprised of the situation and involved every step of the way in terms of steps we were taking to insure the safety of our students and staff.”
Staff, said Scheu, were notified in an email message around 1 p.m. Parents were notified by One Call at the same time.
“The bottom line,” said Scheu, “no guns found, nobody hurt, two kids fooling around with making such comments now know the seriousness of making such comments.”
Cipollone said he takes every alleged threat made at the school seriously.
“I followed protocol for the situation,” said Cipollone. “Word about the incident did get out through cell phones and Facebook. We had our kids worrying about it and their parents worrying too.”
Cipollone said his No. 1 responsibility is to make sure the students at the high school are safe each and every day.
“Parents and students are worried about (safety) because the recent school shooting (West Liberty-Salem Local School District) is fresh in their memory,” said Cipollone. “I do what I can everyday no matter what the circumstances are to keep the students safe.”
Sidney Police Chief Will Balling said his department became aware of the situation when it began receiving phone calls from concerned parents and students.
Balling said Sidney Police Officer Kevin Calvert was at the school between 11:45 a.m. and noon, conducting traffic enforcement, when a parent asked him if a student were threatening to shoot up the school.
“Officer Calvert then noticed several sheriff’s office units drive by the area and saw (Sheriff’s) Deputy Sgt. (Aaron) Steinke parked in the area. Officer Calvert … asked Sgt. Steinke if there was anything going on and Sgt. Steinke advised ‘no.’
“Officer Calvert asked again if there was something going on at the school and Sgt. Steinke advised there was nothing going on at the school. When pressed he stated that ‘They were just doing some sort of exercise at the school.’” said Balling.
“Our staff had not been advised so I contacted Superintendent Scheu directly at approximately 12:20,” said Balling. “He advised me that there was a threat reported earlier in the day in regards to a student overhearing a threat being made. He advised that his personnel were handling it. I advised him that I wish he would have informed us about it so we could assist. I advised him that we would do anything that we could to assist. He requested that we have extra patrol through the lots until the end of the school day. I informed my staff to assist with this.”
The Sidney Police patrolled the school until the end of the school day, Tuesday.
“From my standpoint, I wish we had been notified so we could provide extra security and personnel if needed,” said Balling. “I also want my officers to be safe in case they are in the area and something happens. We (Sidney Police, Sheriff’s Office and Sidney City Schools) need to work together when something like this happens. It’s unfortunate we found out about the incident from other sources. My biggest concern was not being made aware of the situation when it started.”
When asked why the Sidney Police Department wasn’t notified about the incident, Scheu said, “The Sheriff’s Department has jurisdiction over every law enforcement agency in the county. All of our school security officers are deputized by the Sheriff Department and, as is our protocol, (Cipillone) notified his immediate supervisor at the Sheriff Department when this issue was brought to his attention. The plan was put into effect quickly and in an organized way, as we did not want to induce panic for something we did not feel was an immediate threat.
“As it turned out, the steps we took resolved the issue at hand and everyone was notified after more accurate information could be released. If we had needed the SPD assistance, we certainly would have involved them, but felt we had everything under control,” said Scheu.