News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 18, 2012

17-year-old arrested after 'very low-level' threat at South

Reports about North, West called rumors

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A 17-year-old Terre Haute South Vigo High School student has been arrested in connection with a “very low-level” written threat discovered at the school Monday.

Officials announced the arrest at a news conference late this afternoon. Several Terre Haute city police detectives were involved in the investigation.

Superintendent Dan Tanoos credited city police for “a fantastic job of investigating, interviewing and ultimately making an arrest today” of the 17-year-old male at South.

The youth was arrested on suspicion of intimidation, a class-D felony, said Shawn Keen, assistant chief of investigations for the Terre Haute Police Department.

The 17-year-old was taken to the juvenile center and faces juvenile proceedings.

The student also faces school expulsion proceedings, Tanoos said.

For an adult, a class-D felony carries a penalty range of six months to three years imprisonment, said Terry Modesitt, Vigo County Prosecutor.

Tanoos declined to give details about the threat, which he described as “very low level.”

Tanoos also stated, “It’s a shame that a student would make a low-level threat during such a tragic time and also take the [law enforcement] resources off the streets of Terre Haute and out of the county to have to spend on an issue such as this.”

On Monday, Tanoos did send out an automated “all-call” to 18,700 people to assure them that steps were being taken to keep all schools safe and secure. The call did not specifically address the situation at South.

At 3 p.m. today, South Principal Chris Mauk sent out an automated phone call to let the school community know “we felt this was a hoax,” Tanoos said. Officials also knew at that time there would be an arrest.

Tanoos was aware that social media spread rumors about possible threats at North and West Vigo high schools. “There was never, ever a threat at North or West or any other school as related to this issue,” Tanoos said.

While not confirmed by Tanoos, the threat — written in a bathroom — allegedly referenced the shooting in Connecticut where 20 students and six educators were gunned down Friday.

Earlier in the day, city police confirmed they were investigating a threat at South.

As a result, “We’ve increased our presence there,” said city police chief John Plasse. “It’s probably the safest place to be in Terre Haute today.”

But some parents and a grandparent said they believed the school district should have addressed the matter sooner to calm concerns.

One grandparent who contacted the Tribune-Star stated her granddaughter did not go to school at South Vigo Tuesday after learning Monday night there had been some kind of threat. Others parents expressed concerns about the situation, although their children did attend school at South Tuesday, they told the Tribune-Star.

Attendance was down at South Vigo on Tuesday. “We had attendance at about 87 percent today at South. Normally it is about 95 percent,” said Ray Azar, VCSC director of student services. He attributed some of the absences to early Christmas vacations.