A social media post from the evening of Sunday, March 4,that threatened to “shoot up all Bayonne public schools” caused the Bayonne School District to close on Monday, March 5. The account that posted the tweet, under the name IspakaganMorenalaz, was created the same day as the post, according to Bayonne Police Chief Drew Sisk. An investigation into the identity of the accountholder is ongoing.
Then on Monday, the account was reactivated to post at 10:16 p.m., “Nice, you evacuated. I got 4 more days to shoot up the school hahahagonna be fun,” and ended with “tomorrow.”A few more threatening posts followed Tuesday morning, while students were in session,before the account was suspended. Bayonne added security from the Bayonne Police Department and the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office. Police were alerted to the threat on Sunday evening, which left insufficient time to notify parents to arrange for childcare.
At a press conference on Monday, March 5 at Bayonne High School, Mayor James Davis said, “I assure you that when we come up with the individual or individuals who are responsible for this, they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
The security plan is temporary until the mayor and the school district hammer out an intended policy to hire a retired police officerwith a concealed weapon to work in every Bayonne public school. The district is also considering lock-in vestibules that will contain visitors in a hallway while their identification is verified. New surveillance technology is also being considered that would allow for more data storage and a live feed to the police department.
“Schools are still the safest place for students,” said Interim Superintendent Michael A. Wanko, citing a statistic published in USA Today. “We want to keep our students safe but also in school because that’s their job right now – to be in school.”
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a consistently low risk of experiencing a mass shooting. That risk is even lower in NJ, where massacre-capable weapons are much more difficult to obtain than in other states. And for at least two decades, Americans have been more likely to use a gun for suicide than homicide, according to the data.
“Schools are still the safest place for students.” – Superintendent Michael A. Wanko
No end in sight
Fears of mass shootings creeping into every communityare being exploited on social media. The rate of shooting threats on social media platforms has escalated since the Feb. 14 Florida shooting, afflicting dozens of school districts, possibly hundreds.
Monday’s scare was the second in Bayonne since the Feb. 14 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 people. On Feb. 23, a message on the social media platform Snapchat threatened a shooting at “BHS,” an acronym for the New Mexico high school, Belan High School, that was confused with Bayonne. Later that day, police were called to Henry E. Harris Community School after a parent reported her child telling her that another student said a shooting would take place at the school.
In solidarity with students and parents reeling from the Florida school shooting, Bayonne High School is planning to participate in the “National School Walkout” on March 14 on Avenue A. The nationwide demonstration calls for students, parents, and faculty to walk out of school for 17 minutes — one minute for each person killed in the Feb. 14 school shooting – to spur legislative action on gun control.
Leaders in Bayonne have called for more guns in schools. Mayor Davis and Superintendent Wanko support a policy that places a retired police officer with a concealed weapon in every school, while mayoral candidate Jason O’Donnell proposed a policy that would have two active-duty police officers in every school.
The New Jersey Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state, is in line with most teachers’ unions in the region that oppose policies that put more guns in schools ostensibly to deter and defend against mass shootings.
In a statement, NJEA President Marie Blistan warned against turning schools into “armed fortresses of fear,” and argued that guns should be harder to obtain and easier to track.
“It is time to stop responding to every mass shooting with calls for more guns,” said Blistan in the statement. “It is time to put the safety of our children and staff ahead of the profits of gun manufacturers. When it comes to gun violence, whether in schools or churches or movie theaters or night clubs or office buildings or concerts or any other place, we cannot shoot our way to safety. Quite simply, we must get guns out of our schools and keep them out.”
In December, BayonneHigh School experienced the hazards of allowing guns in school when a hockey coach and social studies teacher allegedly pointed a State Trooper’s gun at a student and another teacher on school grounds. The gun was left in an office by another hockey coach, who was also a State Trooper.The career of the teacher who pointed the gun was promptly ended; he was suspended without pay and charged with multiple crimes that could result in up to 10 years in prison. The student, an 18-year-old Bayonne High School senior, recently filed a tort claim against the City of Bayonne for emotional injuries.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.