Seven Stafford Intermediate School Students Charged With Making Terroristic Threats

By DAVID BIGGY | Mar 08, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Seven Stafford Intermediate School sixth-graders made a colossal error on March 7.

“If you say you’re going to shoot up the school, it’s going to be treated as a serious threat every single time,” said Stafford Township Police Chief Thomas Dellane a day after the male students were arrested and charged with making terroristic threats. “It doesn’t matter if you’re serious or joking; it’s going to be taken very seriously and we’re going to charge you, every time. We don’t have the luxury anymore of thinking everything’s a hoax. This stuff has to end.”

As the school day ended about 2:30 p.m., a student notified administrators through an in-district, electronic system that another student was talking about becoming an active shooter, said Stafford Township School District Superintendent George Chidiac.

“We piloted our in-district notification system in January, and students can alert building administrators through Google Drive,” Chidiac said. “It’s a system put in place to allow our students a confidential way of reporting to their administrators when they see or hear something that isn’t right, and we encouraged them to use it. From there, the building administrators check into the report.”

Stafford Intermediate Principal Stephanie Bush, Student Supervisor Sean Reilly and guidance counselor Kristin Ducker responded to the report, Chidiac said. According to police, the administrators located the student on his school bus, removed him from it, and upon further investigation discovered that a group of six more students had made similar comments.

Once those students were rounded up, the police were notified and two officers – Christopher Fritz and Joseph Mrazek – arrived to the scene, Dellane said. From there, the students were processed and charged, then released to their parents. Three of the students are 12 years old, while the others are 11, police said.

“These are juvenile complaints, so they’re dealt with in that regard,” Dellane said. “We file the charges and then it’s handed over to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. Then the kids can either be prosecuted or given orders for a diversion program of some kind. There are different sets of consequences because they’re juveniles. If they were 18, it obviously would have been different. For kids this age, the consequences are more about rehabilitation than punishment.”

Aside from legal consequences, the school district also has its policy in place on doling out consequences.

“We have our Pupil Code of Conduct policy, and there definitely are consequences for something like this,” Chidiac said. “But there’s no black-and-white set of consequences. Each situation, each student, their age level and history are all taken into consideration, and from there our administrators decide what they feel is the best way to handle it. But no question, there are consequences.”

Without specifically stating the consequences for the students involved in the incident, Chidiac said they can range from suspension to counseling, citing that the district utilizes a vast array of “remedial measures” to help students get back on track.

“We do take incidents like this very seriously,” he said. “But every situation is different, and how we handle those situations might differ from one to the next.”

In a statement delivered to parents and guardians on March 8, Chidiac gave reassurance “that there is no threat to our school’s community at this time.”

“Please know that guidance counselors and child study team members are available throughout the course of the school day, should your child feel uneasy or simply needs to speak with someone,” the statement said. “I am confident that our staff will ease our students’ concerns and continue to foster a positive, safe and educational environment.”

The statement also said the district has “implemented additional safety measures due to this recent incident.” Chidiac said the “additional measures” amount to a slightly increased presence of school safety officers – one was in the building at the time of the incident – as well as police.

Chidiac added that school administrators were instructed to visit classrooms the next morning to remind students about the importance of making good choices when it comes to the things they say to or around others, as well as the importance of speaking up when they see or hear something that seems awry. The statement released by the Stafford police reiterated that message.

“Stafford Township Police and Stafford Schools continue to take proactive steps to educate students of the consequences of making any type of threat, and encourage all students to ‘see something, hear something, say something.’ We strongly encourage parents to reinforce this at home and speak with their children regarding this type of behavior,” the statement concluded.

Dellane said the police department and schools work well together, and the security and safety measures in place are solid.

“Both the township and the school district have a robust plan in place when dealing with these types of incidents,” he said. “This was a threat situation, so this required a different response, but the antenna’s always up. We work hand in hand with the school officials – Southern Regional as well as the Stafford elementary district – to ensure the safety and security of their students and staff, and we continually evaluate those plans. Beyond that, we have officers in the schools every day on random patrols, and the lines of communication between us and the schools is always open and constantly being used.”

Even though Chidiac “was up all night” dealing with the aftermath of Wednesday’s incident and how best to address it on Thursday  – in addition to weather-related issues – he said he was pleased to know the security and safety measures in place operate as they should.

“I’m very pleased with how everybody responded,” he said. “Everybody involved was proactive in dealing with the situation, and all they did was well-executed. This wasn’t a drill. And even though I’m not happy that it wasn’t a drill, I am happy that we already had a plan in place on how to handle it.”

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