Terror threats lead to arrests of students

Authorities in East Baton Rouge and East Feliciana parishes on Wednesday arrested two teenagers accused in separate incidents of threats made to a middle school in East Baton Rouge and a high school in East Feliciana.

The incidents came two days after police arrested a 10-year-old boy accused of phoning in a threat to a high school in Baton Rouge over the weekend.

Members of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Drug Task Force arrested a 13-year-old eighth-grade student Wednesday accused of making two prank phone calls this week to Westdale Middle about threats on campus, a East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said in a news release.

Authorities have booked the 13-year-old, whose name was not released, into the East Baton Rouge Parish Juvenile Detention Center on a count of terrorizing, Hicks said.

The student, who was at home for a suspension, called the school at 3:30 p.m. Monday claiming to be the school’s assistant principal and said a student at the school was armed with a knife, Hicks said.

School Drug Task Force members searched the campus but did not find any students or weapons, Hicks said. The school had already let out for the day.

The student again contacted the school at 9:55 a.m. Tuesday, claiming he was a student in the bathroom with a gun, Hicks said.

The school was placed on lockdown, Hicks said. School Drug Task Force members searched the school and again did not find any students with weapons, she said.

The student who allegedly made the calls was later taken into custody, Hicks said.

In Jackson, State Police arrested a student and questioned another Wednesday about a bomb threat against East Feliciana High School that led to the school complex’s evacuation, spokesman for three law enforcement agencies said.

Trooper First Class Jared Sandifer, a State Police spokesman, said detectives booked Sean P. Mahan, 17, into the East Feliciana Parish Jail on one count of terrorizing.

A 15-year-old boy also was questioned about alleged threats but later released to a parent or guardian, Sandifer said.

A spokesman for East Feliciana Sheriff Talmadge Bunch said Mahan, of Colonial Drive, Jackson, was being held in the jail Wednesday afternoon, pending a judge’s decision on the suspect’s bail.

Sandifer said a girl overheard a student making verbal threats against the school and reported the threats in a text message to her mother, who informed school officials of what her daughter had heard.

Investigators later learned that two separate students at the high school had been overheard making verbal threats, Sandifer said.

However, after interviewing the two students and contacting their parents, authorities learned that the students were merely speaking in a threatening manner and were not planning any malicious activities, and a bomb was never found, Sandifer said.

East Feliciana Parish School Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said the school’s principal called 911 after the parent called and initiated the school’s crisis management plan, which included evacuating the students to the designated areas.

Administrators also used the school’s “phone tree” to notify parents of the evacuation, Lewis said in a prepared statement.

In Baton Rouge on Monday, a 10-year-old Iberville Parish boy was arrested on one count of terrorizing after investigators determined he left a threatening voice mail at St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge over the weekend, authorities said.

The boy, who had no known connection to the school, was released to his parents’ custody, Baton Rouge police spokesman Lt. Don Kelly has said. The motive for the threat was unclear, he said.

School spokeswoman Mindy Averitt has said St. Joseph’s has arranged for added security the rest of the week, including plans to have a guard on campus.

Kelly said Wednesday that police have to take all school threats seriously because they can amount to criminal acts.

“Most times the caller is simply trying to cause a disruption, so you hate to reward them by giving them what they want,” Kelly said in an email. “But we also know there’s always an exception to every rule, so that means we’re usually going to have to err on the side of caution.”

Hicks said deputies take every school threat seriously, “but given recent events, and understandably so, everyone is hypersensitive to such calls.”

“The safety of the public is our top priority,” she said in an email. “We make decisions about the release of information based on public safety. Our investigators do all that they can to locate the responsible party to prevent further events and ensure they are brought to justice.”

Law enforcement agencies across Louisiana will continue to take any school threats seriously, Sandifer said.

Advocate staff writer Ryan Broussard contributed to this report.