According to emails obtained by ThisWeek from Worthington Schools, Kilbourne Middle School principal Jim Gaskill received warning the evening of Friday, March 16, that a student threatened violence by doing “something big,” but he did not alert the Worthington Division of Police until four days later.
Harold Delvonnie Hadnot Jr., 13, was charged March 20 with a second-degree felony count of inducing panic, according to Sgt. James Moran.
Charges of inciting panic become felonies when they involve schools, Moran said, and the boy was charged through the Franklin County Juvenile Court, in which he has been assigned a public defender and will stand trial May 1.
In an email sent at 8:09 p.m. March 16, a parent of a Kilbourne Middle School student told Gaskill he was “relaying some information.”
The parent told Gaskill that one of his son’s classmates had been “acting upset and/or violent” and had said “something about ‘knowing how to get a gun’ and ‘wanting to do something big’ ” at a local restaurant after school. The email said the boy allegedly kicked a car and dented and threw a chair at a girl during the incident.
The parent’s email said the threats “sounded like a potentially serious issue” and he wanted to make Gaskill aware.
At 9:32 a.m. Saturday, March 17, Gaskill replied to thank the parent and said he would “address this first thing Monday morning with the student.”
One minute later, he forwarded the message to Kyle Tackett, Kilbourne’s dean of students, adding “we will need to address this first thing on Monday.”
Gaskill has not returned calls seeking comment, and no one picked up the main line at Kilbourne Middle School when ThisWeek called to seek comment from Gaskill and Tackett. The district is on spring break until Monday, April 2.
According to district spokeswoman Vicki Gnezda, Gaskill also informed Neil Gupta, the district’s director of secondary education. Gupta declined to comment and said everything would be answered through Gnezda.
Gnezda said it is unclear whether Gaskill informed Superintendent Trent Bowers or Assistant Superintendent Randy Banks, who Bowers has said is “in charge of safety for the school district.” ThisWeek was told they were on vacation after calling the district office seeking comment.
Moran said police did not become involved until March 20, four days after the original email, when Hadnot allegedly left school without being excused.
At 10:52 a.m. March 20, police received a call about an “unruly” student who had left the school. According to Moran, officers were not informed of him making any threats and returned the boy to school.
In an incident report filed at 3:50 p.m. the same day, Gaskill contacted police to report that “a student made threats against the school.”
Later that afternoon, after Moran said he and another detective interviewed witnesses to verify the story, the boy was arrested and charged with inducing panic.
The division is not yet releasing the full report or “investigatory information” because, according to Chief Jerry Strait, the case is “still open pending formal adjudication.”
However, after interviewing the boy and his mother, investigators decided the statements “seemed to be a credible threat,” Moran said. The boy “corroborated most” of what other students had told police, he said.
An email sent to the boy’s mother received no response and ThisWeek was unable to contact her by phone.
Police did not recover a gun, but the boy had a “plan” to acquire one, Moran said.
At 6:49 p.m. March 20, Gaskill sent a message to Hadnot’s mother. He said he wanted her to keep the boy at home the next day and asked her to “schedule a time we can meet and discuss (redacted) behavior.”
She responded that the boy would not be back in school “this year or next year.”
According to Gnezda, the boy is “not expected to return to school.”
Gnezda declined to comment when asked whether the district had a procedure for informing authorities when threats are made by students, and that the district had no further comment on the incident overall.
The district’s student handbook outlines procedures for administrators to handle threatening behavior, but does not appear to refer to contacting authorities outside “possible police notification” being mentioned in conjunction with a “Level III Violation” on the disciplinary-action chart in Appendix E.
Strait said he thinks the situation demonstrates a “national issue” of “how do we have effective communication?”
“Our team wants to be in the know and the first to know,” he said. “I don’t know the full details behind what transpired there, but I think from a national level, everyone wants to know upfront.
“Our position is that the sooner we’re aware, as a community, on all these issues ... it gives us better insight into trying to avert something and to have the ability to rectify or treat the situation more effectively.”
Other recent incidents
Safety procedures have been cited several times in recent months.
In a message sent to school board members shortly after a Feb. 14 mass shooting left 17 dead at a high school in Parkland, Florida, Bowers described the district’s safety plan as a “three-pronged approach” of secure buildings, planning and training and students’ mental-health needs.
“Most importantly, our staff members are committed to providing school cultures where every student knows they have a trusted adult in their school that cares about them and believes in them,” he said. “ ‘See something, say something’ is more than a slogan. Our students and staff are comfortable talking with one another, and it’s students who will most likely be best positioned to alert our staff of potential safety concerns.”
Bowers credited the “see something, say something” policy with the rapid confiscation of a loaded handgun after it was brought onto Thomas Worthington High School property last October. He said a principal received a tip that a student might have had a weapon in school and the tip was investigated immediately.
The handgun was found in one 16-year-old boy’s backpack and another 16-year-old boy is accused of having known about it, according to the Worthington Division of Police. Both were charged in juvenile court.
According to Moran, Dante Owusu-Best brought the weapon onto school grounds Oct. 5 and was charged with possession of a deadly weapon in a school zone, a fifth-degree felony, and carrying a concealed weapon, a fourth-degree felony.
Two weeks after the incident, police charged the second boy, Alec Deem, with a fifth-degree felony count of possession of a deadly weapon in a school zone, alleging that he was aware of the weapon and had it in his possession at one point during the day.
Bowers said no procedures were altered after the incident. He said district leaders believe “it was confirmation that the procedures in place worked correctly.”
The procedures were on display again March 1 at Worthington’s McCord Middle School after a student reportedly made a threat in a group chat with friends.
Gnezda said at the time a McCord student made “kind of a nondescript” threat in a group text-message thread Feb. 28.
“One of the students in the group chat shared it with the school office,” she said. “That’s the extent of it.”
She said school administrators were notified and contacted the Columbus Division of Police, who “got involved immediately.”
Because of the threat, Gnezda said, the school requested a police officer be present during student arrivals March 1 at the building, 1500 Hard Road in Columbus.
She said Columbus police were investigating, but the status of the incident is unclear because police have not returned calls seeking comment.
Worthington does not have school resource officers, Bowers said previously.
“Worthington has never supported an officer and that is less a financial decision than a philosophical one in that police officers in school often criminalize behavior and put students in the juvenile-justice system that used to just suffer school consequences,” he told the school board in February. “That said, if something would improve school safety, it’s a conversation we would be open to having again in Worthington.”