KEALAKEKUA — Despite increased police presence at three Hawaii Island high schools amid potential school shooting threats, some students at Konawaena High felt it was an average day on campus Wednesday.
“It felt like a normal day with less people,” said 18-year-old senior Ezekiel Limpahan.
Hawaii Police officers spent the school day Wednesday at Keaau School, Pahoa and Konawaena high schools after learning of social media postings that indicated possible threats of a school shooting or bringing a firearm to school.
“I feel like since we live in Hawaii we shouldn’t have to worry about these things,” Limpahan said after school on Wednesday.
The threats comes in the wake of a Feb. 14 school shooting that left 17 students and teachers dead in Parkland, Florida. On Feb. 16, Hawaii News Now reported a social media post threatening violence at Kapolei Middle that prompted an increased police presence at the school.
Konawaena High principal Shawn Suzuki said it was a staff member who reported the social media threat to him Tuesday morning. Police were notified by 11:30 a.m. The Department of Education was contacted soon after.
“It had some reference to harm at schools,” Suzuki said of the post on Wednesday. “For us it was a red flag and we alerted police.”
Although the Instagram post did not contain a specific school, the juvenile was found to be connected with Konawaena High School.
The teen’s parents were contacted and his home was immediately searched for weapons. West Hawaii Area Complex Superintendent Art Souza said nothing was found.
At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, a 17-year-old boy was taken into custody by Ka’u police officers. He was subsequently charged with second-degree terroristic threatening then released to his parents, as he did not qualify for further detention.
“You want to take the maximum level of security and precaution without causing mass hysteria,” Souza said. “I’m just fearful that this kind of thing is happening more and more.”
Souza said the teen was not in school on Wednesday. He wasn’t made aware of any long-term disciplinary action at this time.
On Wednesday morning, Suzuki did an opening bulletin telling students that he appreciated them being in school and if they needed to talk there were counselors available. Students were reminded that if they see something on social media or are aware of a situation with a fellow student that might be concerning, to report it.
“Kids deal with a lot,” the principal said.
While parents weren’t notified of the potential threat immediately, Suzuki said a text blast went out Wednesday morning and a letter from the DOE went home with every child explaining the situation.
“Getting our facts straight was paramount,” Suzuki said. “Sometimes, circumstances are we can’t release anything immediately.”
Suzuki added he was grateful for the response and people coming together for the students.
After the teen’s arrest, Hawaii Police Maj. Robert Wagner said rumors on social media began to spread. People were claiming the school was going to be closed.
Wagner said the Kona Police Station answered more than 50 calls at the receiving desk addressing concerns about a potential threat at Konawaena. There were many calls unanswered due to tied-up lines.
Because of the concern, Wagner said, the decision was made to put out a Nixle alert.
Nixle alerts are typically only issued when there is a road impacted by a crash or some other element or authorities are looking for someone.
“You don’t want to put out a Nixle that creates panic,” Wagner said.
However, the decision was made to issue an alert to put rumors to rest.
“We were worried that people thought it was unsafe to take their kids to school,” Wagner said.
The alert went out at 10:30 p.m. Calls significantly subsided after that.
Police said late Tuesday they were aware of a comment by a juvenile referencing bringing a gun to Pahoa High School and were summoned to the campus. It was reported that during a back and forth Instagram text between two female teenagers in which insults were exchanged, a 16-year-old female made a comment referencing bringing a firearm to school.
Police generated a harassment case and located and interviewed the 16-year-old suspect Tuesday; she was later released and the case is being routed to Family Court.
Subsequently, social media messages were posted Tuesday discussing that a potential shooting was to take place at Pahoa High school Wednesday, later social media posts began discussing whether a shooting would take place at a Keaau school as well.