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UPDATE: Teens charged in school threats

Police cars block the entrance to Russellville High School Thursday morning while the school was being searched due to a bomb threat made on social media. Photo by Kellie Singleton.
Police cars block the entrance to Russellville High School Thursday morning while the school was being searched due to a bomb threat made on social media. Photo by Kellie Singleton.

Two juveniles were arrested Thursday after the bomb threats they reportedly posted on a social media site resulted in the evacuation of two area schools.

Investigators with the Russellville Police Department arrested a 16-year-old male and charged him with making a terrorist threat and rendering a false alarm in connection with the threats made toward Russellville High School. The juvenile is an RHS student.

Investigators with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 17-year-old male and charged him with making a terrorist threat in connection with the threats made toward Tharptown High School later that day. The juvenile is a student at THS.

Neither of the boys can be identified because of their juvenile status.

The charge of making a terrorist threat is a Class C felony punishable by 1-10 years in prison if convicted.

The first potential bomb threat authorities were alerted to Thursday morning was the threat aimed at Russellville High School.

According to Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett, students and faculty at RHS were evacuated at 9:15 a.m. Thursday due to a bomb threat posted on social media late Wednesday night.

Hargett said the threat was only directed toward the high school and that was the only school that was evacuated.

“We received a call this morning that high school personnel were initiating their bomb protocol because they had been made aware of a bomb threat posted on a social media app last night,” Hargett said.

“We immediately went to the school to assist them and we called in the Florence Police Department’s bomb squad to help us search the entire high school campus.”

Hargett said the threat was posted on the app “Yik Yak”, which is an app that allows users within a certain mile radius to post and see statements that are made anonymously.

Hargett said the threat in question stated “Attention RHS students” and was then followed by several emojis [pictures] of bombs and guns.

Hargett said they take any kind of threat seriously, so that’s why the decision was made to evacuate the campus and conduct a thorough search.

All RHS students and faculty were taken to the Russellville Middle School gymnasium where students were already scheduled to attend a program Thursday morning hosted by the Franklin County Development Authority and local businesses and industries.

Russellville Superintendent Rex Mayfield said students remained at the RMS gym until the all clear was given.

Hargett said the entire campus was thoroughly searched by the Russellville Police Department as well as the Florence Police Department’s bomb squad, and officials cleared the campus for students to return at 11:30 a.m. after failing to find anything suspicious.

Less than an hour after the RHS campus was given the all clear, students and faculty at both Tharptown High School and Tharptown Elementary School initiated their bob threat protocol because a similar threat was once again made on the Yik Yak app.

School officials said the threats indicated the “same thing would happen at Tharptown during 6th period today”.

Franklin County Superintendent Gary Williams said the threats were directed toward the high school but because the elementary school is in such close proximity, they were evacuated as well.

“All the students and faculty were evacuated to the football field until we could determine the school campus was safe,” Williams said.

“We take any kind of threat toward our schools, students or faculty very serious.”

The Florence Police Department’s bomb squad was once again called to assist the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office at the scene and to check the entire campus before the students and faculty were allowed to return to the school buildings about 2 p.m.

Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver said there was reportedly a third threat at Belgreen High School, but by the time it was reported to officials, it was deemed the post was no longer a threat.

“This was just a sad situation,” Williams said.

“We realize these probably weren’t actual threats, but you can’t know that and you have to take them seriously every time.

“Our students need to understand that something like this isn’t a prank and it isn’t funny. We had young students out on the football field at Tharptown that were crying because they were scared, and I know we had parents that were scared for their children’s safety as well.”

Hargett said this is a prime example of someone misusing social media and serious consequences resulting from it.

“In our case, this was a generally good kid who just made a very bad decision,” Hargett said.

“This is why anonymous sites like this Yik Yak app are so dangerous – it makes kids think they can say and do anything without there being any consequences, but that wasn’t the case in this situation.

“We need all of our kids to understand that things like this are not acceptable and will not be tolerated, and unfortunately for these two boys, they’re going to have to find that out the hard way.”

Williams said he appreciated all area law enforcement responding to these two incidents in such a timely manner.

“We are glad that our law enforcement was able to determine who was responsible for these threats so that we can put this behind us and not have to continue to be worried,” he said.

“Their quick work will also hopefully send the message that these so-called anonymous apps aren’t so anonymous, and you can’t just go on there and say anything you want to say.”

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