Police make arrests in school threats; security raised at Americas, Bel Air high schools

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Police make arrests in school threats; security raised at Americas, Bel Air high schoolsBuy Photo

Socorro Independent School District lead dispatcher Omar Chavira keeps an eye on activities in the district's Police Department headquarters. The department has plans to apply for rifle-resistant vests that would enhance the safety of the officers who patrol the school district.(Photo: RUBEN R. RAMIREZ/EL PASO TIMES)Buy Photo

El Paso police have made four arrests tied to a recent rash of school threats, a police spokesman said Monday.

Also, security was increased at Americas and Bel Air high schools on Monday after threats posted on social media, school district spokesmen said.

El Paso police have arrested students and at least one former student -- most of whom are juveniles -- in connection with various school threats in the past week, Sgt.

Enrique Carrillo said.

"We want them to know there are serious consequences. It's not a joke," Carrillo said.

Carrillo said it was unusual to have so many school threats within a week.

The latest threats appear to be a recirculation of a threat posted on social media last week but with the names of schools changed, said Socorro Independent School District Police Chief Joe Castorena.

"What we are seeing is the same initial threat just being re-sent and the names changed," Castorena said.

Castorena advised parents to talk to their children about the consequences of posting and sharing threatening messages on social media.

The cases are among a rash of copycat threats at schools across the nation after last week's mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

Socorro district officials learned about the shooting threat posted on social media Saturday, district spokesman Daniel Escobar said.

"We have extra security at campus while it is investigated," Escobar said.

During the weekend, police investigated the possible threat and made "knock and talk" visits to homes of people connected with sharing the message, Castorena said.

Security also was increased at Bel Air High School after a similar threat, said Ysleta Independent School District spokesman Chris Lechuga.

Law enforcement determined that the anonymous threat was not credible but extra security will be at schools this week as a precaution, Lechuga said.

Police also looked into rumors of possible threats at Indian Ridge and Bel Air middle schools, Lechuga said.

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Last week, a student was arrested on a charge of making a false alarm for allegedly making a verbal threat involving El Dorado High School, Escobar said. The student's name was not released.

There also was extra security last week at Ysleta High School and Burges High School after similar threats on social media.

"We want community involvement," Castorena said. "We want them to get with their kids to explain the consequences."

Students not only face disciplinary action in school.

Threats can result in criminal charges ranging from a Class B misdemeanor to a state jail felony depending on the intended victim, Castorena said.

"The last thing we want is to go and charge a student with them being ignorant on the outcome," Castorena said.

School authorities warn students that all threats are taken seriously and investigated even if they were intended as a joke.

Anyone who learns of a threat is asked to report it to police immediately and to refrain from spreading it on social media.

There have been at least two school-threat cases referred for prosecution in the Socorro school district this month, Castorena said.

"In most cases, it's been, 'I didn't know I would get in trouble. I didn't mean it.' Things of that nature," said Castorena, explaining that charges still can be filed.

"We want to encourage the community to become more involved in what our kids are doing in social media and to report things that are out of the ordinary," Castorena said.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at 546-6102; [email protected]; @BorundaDaniel on Twitter.

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