DALTON, Ga. — A juvenile was arrested for making threats against Whitfield County Schools as area schools were on heightened alert on Thursday following the discovery of a threatening note on Wednesday at Dalton High School, and eight days after 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Florida.
Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Paul Woods said the juvenile had used a photo of another juvenile with a gun in a social media post and had directed threats at Whitfield County Schools. Woods said the juvenile whose photo was used was unaware of the post and cooperated with detectives. Woods said the juvenile who made the post in the other person’s name was arrested by Juvenile Court on charges of terroristic threats and acts and disrupting a public school.
Woods said the sheriff’s office was in contact with school system officials throughout the investigation and extra patrols were sent to area schools.
Dalton High School had an increased police presence throughout Thursday after the discovery of the threatening note by students on Wednesday. The threat resulted in increased patrols at all city schools and a drop in attendance after Dalton Public Schools posted a video from Dalton High Principal Steve Bartoo to social media Wednesday night informing students and parents of the threat.
Bartoo said even with the increased police presence — he said five or six extra police officers were on campus in addition to the school resource officer who is normally there — it was just another day of school.
“Is it a normal day? No, but we are trying to treat it as normally as we can,” Bartoo said. “I have gotten some good comments from kids. They are glad they are here today. They have faith that we are handling the situation properly, which I think we are. They are here and ready to learn. They are ready for a regular school day. We are trying to treat it as normal and as regularly as possible.”
There was a noticeable drop in attendance Thursday. According to figures released by school system Director of Communications Pat Holloway, Dalton High’s attendance was down 654 students for a 65.6 percent attendance rate, compared to 97.5 percent on Wednesday.
Michael Hicks said he kept his 11th-grade son home because it “wasn’t worth the risk.”
“Basically with everything that is going on, you just don’t know,” Hicks said. “That is not a chance I am willing to take with my son. If there is a slightest chance that something could happen, my son is not going to be going. I am sure that every one of those parents who sent their kids to school last week (in Florida) thought that they would be OK and that isn’t a chance I am willing to take.”
Hicks said the shooting deaths in Parkland, Fla., last week by a former student, according to law enforcement officials, has hit close to home for a family that lives less than a mile from Dalton High. But he gave credit to school system officials for letting everyone know about the threat as soon as it was discovered. Now, he says he will have to decide if he sends his son to school on Friday.
“They can only do so much. You can’t bubble wrap everything,” Hicks said. “I have not decided yet. It depends on what I find out today and what we learn. I’ll discuss it with my wife and make a decision then.”
Bartoo said he understood that some parents would not be sending their kids to school on Thursday.
And while attendance was down, Bartoo said others were little concerned about the threat given the heavy police presence.
“I’ve had parents tell me if there was any day you would think about not sending your kid to school because of safety, today would be one of those days you would want to send your kid because you have such a larger presence of police and extra security on campus right now,” said Bartoo, who has a son who is a senior at the school and was in attendance Thursday. “I really believe and really think we have a safe campus and a safe school. That is indicative to the culture that sits in our school. Our kids want to be in a safe school. Obviously, our parents want their kids to be in a safe school. But I certainly understand parents’ concerns when something like this happens.”
The investigation at Dalton High began after three students found a note in the floor of a classroom that included a threat against the school for Feb. 22. The students turned the note over to a teacher, who took it to school administrators.
According to a release from the Dalton Police Department, investigators have been trying to identify who wrote the note.
“Police and school authorities take any threat against the schools seriously and work to hold anybody responsible accountable,” the police department said in a press release.
Dalton Police Department spokesman Bruce Frazier said the investigation into the threatening note at Dalton High was ongoing as of Thursday afternoon and no arrests had been made.