PHOENIX — Arizona has seen a spike in reports of school threats since the Uvalde, Texas massacre.
Two teenage girls in Kingman were found with a hitlist while allegedly plotting a school shooting, a Cochise County 7-year-old was found with two guns and ammo in his backpack, a Queen Creek 9-year-old was found with a pistol on campus, and on September 21st Phoenix police investigated at least four school threats in their city.
In El Mirage this August, relatives were tasered after rushing to a locked-down elementary school and becoming confrontational with police.
At nearly every recent Valley school lockdown, relatives have been seen rushing to campuses to check on their children.
The horror at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School is still fresh on every parent's mind, as video showed officers waiting in the hallway outside the classroom where a gunman murdered 19 children and two teachers.
“You immediately start thinking the worst sometimes,” said Amanda Clark.
Clark’s son used to be a second grader at Legacy Traditional School’s Queen Creek campus. On August 25, 2020, she rushed to the campus after getting the lockdown alert that a fourth grader had a pistol in his backpack.
“The email was very vague. They said don’t come to the school,” said Clark, who immediately rushed to campus along with other parents. “You just go…it's your kid, you don't trust anybody else.”
Clark later pulled her son from the school because she said leaders would not tell her if the student who brought the gun was being expelled.
Al Moore is the Safety and Security Director for Mesa Public Schools, the largest district in Arizona with nearly 60,000 students.
“What's changed since Uvalde in your mind?” we asked.
‘The mindset of parents,” said Moore.
He said parents are not only concerned when a threat arises, but they also want the district to continue to proactively add security measures.
“After Sandy Hook when we started building fences, and increasing our locks and remodeling our front offices, I was getting a lot of phone calls from parents saying, ‘Hey, you're making our schools look like prisons,’” recalled Moore. “But after Uvalde, I was getting flooded with calls and emails saying, ‘Hey, how come you don't have higher fences? How come you don't have better locks?’”
Moore believes our country’s increasing anxiety is leading to more vigilance and threat reporting from parents, students, and school resource officers.
He said this school year they have seen a 60% increase in reported threats. The numbers have nearly doubled when compared to the 2018-2019, pre-COVID school year.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has also noticed the trend.
“Since Uvalde, we have seen a resurgence. When there is a national tragedy, we see, commonly, an uptick in incidents,” said County Attorney Rachel Mitchell.
Mitchell said the threats are leading to more criminal cases.
In the first 10 months of this year, police submitted 50 cases for ‘interference with or disruption of an educational institution.’
And in September, the office charged five juveniles with the crime.
“We look at does the child needs services. Is this truly a threat?” said Mitchell, at a November news conference. “And it’s extremely challenging, as you can guess, to assess if a person has the character, capacity, wherewithal, or desire to actually carry out a threat.”
In Mesa, Moore said he is constantly reassuring parents that most threats do not pose an imminent danger to students.
“We got to take them all seriously,” he said. “But few of them scare me, to be honest with you, because the police department jumps on them so quickly and [determines] they are not a viable threat.”
For the parents who have rushed to their students’ schools though, they want more transparency in real time to calm their fears post-Uvalde.
“You have to give me more information or make me feel safer,” said Clark. “Or there has to be better communication, or I'm going to be there.”