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Two Orange County sheriff’s deputies have been placed on administrative leave, pending an internal investigation, after threats of a shooting at Cedar Ridge High School, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Principal Intisar Hamidullah found graffiti on a bathroom wall Monday, May 20, saying there would be a shooting and a suicide at the school Wednesday, May 29, officials have said. Hamidullah told Cpl. André Richmond, a school resource officer, who photographed the graffiti, and it was removed.
Neither the principal nor the officer “took the matter any further,” according to the joint statement from the Orange County Schools system and Sheriff’s Office provided to The News & Observer on Monday and first reported by Indyweek.
On Friday, May 24, a student found more written threats in the same bathroom and told Hamidullah, who this time contacted Deputy Cristy Faircloth, a second school resource officer, who also took a picture.
“At this point, no administrator at the district level of the school system or at the command staff level at the OCSO had been notified about either instance of graffiti,” the joint statement said.
On the same day, another student shared a picture of the threats with her mother who called 911.
A deputy spoke with her and then called Richmond, the officer who had been told about the first incident. Richmond was on vacation and didn’t realize there was another threat, according to the joint statement.
“At this point, both deputies incorrectly believed they were talking about a single incidence of graffiti,” the statement reads.
Hamidullah began telling district administrators about the threat around 7 p.m. that Friday, and they began an investigation. The sheriff’s lieutenant who supervises school resource officers was also notified, and planning began for students’ return following the Memorial Day weekend.
On Tuesday, May 28, the second message, which had been etched into a metal wall, was removed, which required sanding, and officers began investigating who might have written the messages, according to the statement. Administrators interviewed several students, and staff and parents were told about the Friday graffiti threat.
On Wednesday, May 29, the statement says “multiple law enforcement agencies were on scene to provide additional support and security to ensure the safety of students and staff.”
The Sheriff’s Office would not confirm Tuesday which two deputies had been placed on administrative leave because of these events.
Sheriff: Failure to report ‘unconscionable’
In the joint statement, Sheriff Charles Blackwood said he is concerned that officers failed to report the threats to their superiors.
“Regardless of what action a school principal is taking in response to a threat, it is violation of our policy for a deputy not to immediately report any threat to the safety of our students and school system personnel to his or her superior officer,” he said in the statement. “We take great pride in our training and our safety protocols. This failure on our part is unconscionable.”
Outgoing Superintendent Todd Wirt also expressed concern, saying the district trains staff, which failed to meet expectations.
“We rely on our school principal to take the lead to protect children,” he said in the statement, “and without a doubt we must do better.”
Another threat was found in a boy’s bathroom at Cedar Ridge on Thursday, May 30, and it has also been removed.
The Sheriff’s Office is offering a $1,000 cash reward for information leading to an arrest and prosecution in the case.
Board of Education Chair Will Atherton said the board won’t be ready to comment until after an internal investigation.
“Obviously there was a lot of anxiety that was created with this, and anything that has to do with safety and security of our schools, parents, teachers and staff is concerning to the board,” Atherton said. “We’re ready to get the internal investigation done so we can determined what happened and what needs to be changed.”
The latest threats follow the unrelated arrest of a former Orange County Schools teacher on a charge of communicating a threat of mass violence.
As the N&O has previously reported, the former special-needs teacher at Pathways Elementary School in Hillsborough warned three other teachers last month to leave the school if she ever sent them a message saying “the squash is ripe,” because that meant “she was going to shoot the school,” according to a warrant.
The warrant says the former teacher, Kristen Thompson, made the threats May 6. The teachers to whom she allegedly made the threats did not report them to administrators until after Thompson abruptly quit her job nearly two weeks later.