Threat sparks quick response

  • Officer Wyatt Nahale keeps watch at Kealakehe Intermediate School Friday morning. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A police car is parked outside of Hilo Intermediate School Friday morning in Hilo. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
  • A skateboarder rolls down Waianuenue Avenue as a police car is parked outside of Hilo Intermediate School Friday morning in Hilo. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — It was largely business as usual Friday at Big Island schools despite a threat posted to social media Thursday aimed at Hilo Intermediate School.

The Hawaii Police Department made its presence felt beyond school resource officers after the threat that, according to Capt. Kenneth Quiocho, the Hilo patrol commander, was originally made anonymously on a phone app called Tellonym — which is advertised as “the most honest place on the internet.”

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Quiocho said another student saw the threat, which the anonymous poster later retracted as a joke, and re-posted it to Instagram.

“We do not find any legitimacy to the threat. We didn’t mention the school, only because we don’t want to give any validity to this kind of garbage people post on social media regarding hurting our kids,” Quiocho said. “We’re showing presence at the school just to let the community know we’re aware of what is posted. We did investigate it. We want to make sure our kids are safe when they go to school.”

Capt. John Briski, Puna’s police commander, said Friday officers were “making checks at our schools in this area.”

“We also have our school resource officer available to assist any of the schools that have any issues that might come up,” Briski said.

Letters to parents and guardians were sent Thursday by Heather Dansdill, Hilo Intermediate’s principal, and Chad Keone Farias, complex area superintendent for Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa and Hilo-Waiakea. Both communications were essentially the same, informing parents the schools would be open with additional DOE security and police officers.

The letters said terroristic threats “are considered Class A student conduct offenses.”

“Penalties can range from detention to dismissal with the possibility of arrest and serious criminal charges,” the letters stated. “I urge students and families to refrain from re-posting threats. According to (police), re-posting a threat is as good as making the threat itself and contributes to carrying on the initial threat.”

According to the letters, school officials “are striving to balance the need for safety with our overall commitment to provide students and families with every sense of normalcy.”

Kealakehe High School students and faculty, meanwhile, went about their normal schedules Friday morning despite the school shooting threat issued to Hilo Intermediate.

Maj. Robert Wagner said police presence was increased at all schools around the island, some officers were at schools, while other locations had increased presence with patrols.

The post was made in the wake of Honolulu police increasing their presence at Oahu’s Pearl City High and Momilani Elementary schools Thursday morning after a social media threat, and Quiocho said the latter post “could’ve been” a copycat.

“There were some Oahu schools that were mentioned in the post,” he said.

A press release from the FBI’s Honolulu field office spoke only of the hoax threat to Pearl City High School but said the bureau and its partners follow up on every tip received from the public and investigate all threats to determine their credibility.

“Making false threats drains law enforcement resources and cost taxpayers a lot of money,” the release states. “When an investigation concludes there was a false or hoax threat made to a school, or another public place, a federal charge could be considered which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. If a federal charge is not warranted, state charges can be considered.”

A DOE spokeswoman said the department was still assessing the situation Friday afternoon, but Superintendent Christina Kishimoto issued a letter Friday at all public schools.

“In the past two days, individuals have inappropriately used social media to post threats to our schools,” she wrote. “This is not how we care for community in Hawaii and I want to reassure you that we are working with law enforcement agencies to investigate these incidents.”

Kishimoto encouraged parents and guardians “to speak with your child about the seriousness of making these types of threats, especially over social media, where they think it will remain anonymous.”

“Our law enforcement partners have the capability to track down individuals who are responsible for these posts; one suspect has already been identified,” she wrote.

The FBI said it has identified an individual responsible for the initial Pearl City High School threat and that the threat was intended to be a “joke.” Subsequent threats to the high school were determined to be copycat threats.

West Hawaii Today reporter Tiffany DeMasters contributed to this report.

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Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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