Pictured: Nordhoff High School in Ojai was one of three schools in Ventura County which received non-credible threats of school shootings last week.
by Kimberly Rivers
Officials at two Ventura County high schools and one junior high are working with law enforcement to find the person responsible for messages threatening school shootings over the past week. In all cases, officials deemed the threats non-credible and school schedules were not altered.
“Our focus is on catching the individual responsible,” said Richard Urias, principal at Oxnard High School (OHS). “That way we can take a deep breath and reduce the anxiety and fear we are all experiencing.” OHS was the subject of a school shooting threat found the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 18. Urias said a message was written on a wall on the campus after school and a photograph was shared widely on social media. Law enforcement quickly determined that the threat was not credible.
The other threats targeted Nordhoff High School in Ojai Unified School District and E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, part of Hueneme Elementary School District.
“I’m not the expert and rely on the Oxnard Police Department to evaluate,” said Urias about how the officials knew the threat was not credible. Wednesday evening Urias received many messages from worried students and parents who had seen the image online. He posted a message Wednesday evening on the schools Twitter page to ensure the community knew that he was aware of the note and that the school was working closely with law enforcement. “Kids already knew… I wanted to slow the panic.”
On Sunday, Sept. 15, officials with Ojai Unified School District informed parents about the “unsubstantiated, online” threat directed at Nordhoff High School. The threat was investigated by the Ojai Police Department, a division of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, and was deemed to be not credible. Officers were stationed at Nordhoff and Matilija Junior High on Monday, Sept. 16, and counselors were made available.
“It is still being investigated,” said Christine Walker, superintendent of Hueneme Elementary School District, about a threat found Thursday, Sept. 19, at the end of the school day. A message was written on a bathroom wall and reported to the office by a student. “It was taken very seriously.” She said law enforcement deemed it “safe to come to school,” although the school conducted backpack searches on Friday, Sept 20, as a precautionary measure.
Ojai Police Department Detective James Douglas is investigating the threat at Nordhoff and was only able to answer general “hypothetical” questions about these types of threats as the case is still open. He said the sheriff’s office takes “every threat of a mass shooting very seriously,” and uses considerable resources to determine whether or not they are credible.
According to Douglas, in order for a crime to have occurred when a threat is made, the threat would have to meet two main thresholds. First, it must be something that could really happen and, second, something the person could reasonably accomplish. Once an investigation is complete, the Ventura County District Attorney determines what charges are filed.
“Information sharing is borderline impeccable,” said Douglas about communication between different law enforcement agencies in the county. “When it comes to any threat . . . where it originates, that agency is primary,” and they “notify every other agency” that there has been some type of threat. He said the agencies work together and share information to determine if it is an “isolated threat or tied together.”
The VCReporter obtained the photograph of the handwritten message written in thick pink letters scrawled on white tile being circulated on the social media app SnapChat. A parent at OHS said the photo was shared hundreds of times between students.
“We were alerted to the message, and it was investigated by school resource officers,” said Sgt. Chris Inglehart, with the Oxnard Police Department. He confirmed the photograph is the threat they responded to and it’s believed to have been written in “pink or red lipstick.”
Urias emphasized that the entire school community was affected. “OHS is a victim of it. Our entire staff felt the same things” that parents and students experienced. He emphasized that the school has psychologists and counselors providing social and emotional help and support to students, parents and staff if needed.
“It’s an expellable offense,” said Urias about consequences in the event that the person who made the threat is a student at the school. “Unfortunately it’s probable that the person [who did it] doesn’t fully comprehend the damage to students and the community.”