High school student reports hearing peer talk about bringing a gun to campus

A rumor about the potential for a gun violence incident at either the high school or junior high in Banks caused officials to shut down classes for 1,130 students Friday.

All three schools in the district were closed Dec. 21 "as a precautionary safety measure" after a parent called the Washington County Sheriff's Office Thursday evening to report a suspicious comment her daughter reported overhearing at the high school, according to Superintendent Bob Huston.

"We haven't been able to substantiate where the story came from," Huston said. "The girl thought she heard someone say [another student] was planning to bring a gun to either the high school or the junior high on Friday."

With anxieties running high across town a week after the horrific elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., "we weren't about to take chances," he added.

Huston made the call to close school just past midnight on Thursday after consulting with school board members, said Banks High Principal Mark Everett, who was busy Friday morning poring through class lists to determine where the alleged threat might have originated.

"Everybody's on edge," said Everett. "At this point we're proceeding along the lines of an inquiry, not an investigation."

Public Information Officer Bob Ray said Friday morning that his team at the Sheriff's Office, including Officers James Berning and Todd Hanlon, had all but concluded their investigation.

"We spent a lot of time talking to people [in the district] and found there was absolutely no basis whatsoever to the allegations," said Ray. "The long and short of it is that the school district erred on the side of caution" by closing Friday, he noted.

Forest Grove letter cites 'rumors'

In Forest Grove, high school Principal Karen Robinson sent a letter to parents Dec. 18 noting staff members there had "dealt with rumors involving violent acts on our campus," specifically, "text messages and Facebook postings by students and parents."

Robinson and other administrators worked with law enforcement officials to investigate the rumors and electronic messages, and said that to date they had "found no truth behind any of these rumors."

Forest Grove High School "has multiple safety measures in place," Robinson noted in her letter, "including all exit doors being locked during the day" and a new (as of this year) entryway right next to the main office.

A rumor that Echo Shaw Elementary School might close Friday was unsubstantiated, said Forest Grove School District Chief of Staff Connie Potter.

Banks parents happy with decision

Huston said he received "multiple calls" on Friday from parents indicating support for his decision to close school.

"Our kids are worried and not feeling safe, like school should be for them," said parent Christy Greagor, who has three students in the Banks district. "With the recent tragedy, ensuring them it is safe [at school] is hard to do."

Misty Maller, a mother of three Banks students — her youngest in kindergarten — concurred.

"We decided earlier in the week to keep them home today because of heightened feelings of uneasiness. I actually asked the elementary secretary yesterday if extra security was going to be present Dec. 21 and she said no.

"My children feel safe at school … [it] just makes me feel better keeping them close today."

The early closure means district staff and students will get an extra day off over the holidays. The annual Winter Break was to begin Monday, Dec. 24, with classes resuming Jan. 7, 2013.

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