Another threat in South Burlington despite canceled classes - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Another threat in South Burlington despite canceled classes

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There was yet another threat against South Burlington schools Friday, even with classes canceled.

"It's absolutely not a game. This is impacting peoples' lives. It's impacting their feelings of safety and security," South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple said. "That's far from a game."

Frustration from South Burlington's police chief Friday, after the fourth day of threats against city schools.

Classes were canceled across the city Friday. Yet School Superintendent David Young announced that another threat had been made. At a news conference Friday afternoon, officials offered few details about this latest threat other than to say that it was sent to specific students and staff members.

The chief said police continue to follow up on all leads in an effort to find those responsible for terrorizing the school since Tuesday. He also said the FBI offered up two cyber experts to help with the investigation.

"The FBI has agents who are simply tasked with cybercrime, that's their only job. They are highly trained and highly experienced," Whipple said. "We still do have a very active investigation, an investigation that is meaningful to our department. We have a close relationship with our community, a great relationship with the school system and many of our officers know these students personally."

The chief also referenced a video circulating online which talks about the threats. It surfaced early Friday morning on Facebook and was quickly shared hundreds of times. In it, an individual who disguised his face and voice taunted officials and again called for the murders of five teachers and 11 students. And again, cited the removal of the controversial "Rebels" nickname as motivation.

"I looked at it and, like anyone else who has looked at, it is certainly concerning, right?" Gary Margolis said.

Margolis is the former UVM police chief. He now owns the campus security consulting business Margolis Healy, which specializes in campus safety and security. He is not involved in the South Burlington investigation and he did not want to speculate about this case. But he did take a look at the Facebook video and says officials are right to take these threats seriously.

"I know that given what I have seen, given my experience, that they are working on this and they are taking it very seriously and they are taking the appropriate steps to investigate," Margolis said.

Police not only swarmed South Burlington High School, they took precautions at other schools in the city, as well. It was a similar scene at Essex High School last week following a threat there, which is now considered a hoax, a case of so-called swatting which is a threat designed to generate a huge police response.

So are police overreacting to these incidents?

"Never would I ever think what's going on now is overreacting," Margolis said. "I think the right people looking at any potential threat and making reasonable assessments as to the level of risk and taking appropriate action is the right thing to do. And not for a second have I looked at anything that has happened in the last week, two weeks, even beyond and thought it was overreacting."

South Burlington detectives are investigating the origin of that threatening video. Chief Whipple is asking people not to post or share that video or the threatening emails. He says doing so could interfere with the investigation and perpetuate the threat.

Authorities would not speak to specific developments in their investigation but the chief spoke about a conversation he had with loved ones of an individual who made that list.

Reporter Keith McGilvery: You spoke with family today. What was that conversation like? Describe that dynamic for us.

Chief Trevor Whipple: Heartwrenching. This is a family that's afraid to leave her at home, afraid of every person that walks by the house, every car that drives by. It goes as granular as at some point midmorning, I stopped at one of the local convenience stores to get a coffee and a young woman grabbed me and said, "Oh, can I talk to you for a minute? I'm a high school senior and I'm really scared about what's going on."

The chief says so far, none of the individuals on the suspect's "kill list" have asked for protection from his department.

"Some people are downright frightened and scared for their lives," Whipple said. "Some are downright irritated."

So what can be done to stop these threats?

Brian Miller, a former detective lieutenant with the Vermont State Police responded to a case of swatting two years ago in Chester where a person claimed to be stabbing someone. It was a hoax. No one was ever caught because swatting cases are hard to solve. Miller expects that someone will be caught in the South Burlington case. And when they are, he says the punishment should be severe to set an example and to stop these kinds of crimes.

"The community needs to say enough is enough. And when people are caught, justice needs to be severe and swift," Miller said. "It's important that it's a very public prosecution when the time comes."

Miller also says parents should closely monitor what their children are doing online in case it's a kid who's making these threats.

Police are asking the public for help. They set up a tip line. Anyone with information is asked to call 802-846-4187. The chief tells us at least 30 tips have come in about the series of threats. Investigators tell us they are very much still looking for additional information. They remind folks to call them if they have details big or small and to let authorities determine how significant they may or may not be.

Friday, schools around South Burlington sat empty as the spring break started early. Classes were called off at the elementary, middle and high schools after three days in a row of threats. The South Burlington Community Library was also closed.

"In a perfect world, we can come back to school a week from Monday and say this is over," Whipple said.

"We're going to be fine, but this is a tough thing," Superintendent Young said.

Young admits it has been a tough few days for students and teachers. He says it is hard to see the fear in students' faces.

"For any one day we deal with-- snow days, adverse weather, that by being on the roads could be harmful-- but this is very different. This is a threat that absolutely essentially polarizes the organization. It brings to home your own kind of figures, it brings home for the kids if you were to see and walk through the school on any of these particular days you see the fear in children's eyes when you want to see excitement and engagement," Young said.

Young reminds his students and teachers, as well as the community at large, that help is available if people feel they need counseling or additional support as this investigation moves forward.

Tim Wile, the director of guidance at South Burlington High School, says people can have a variety of responses to difficult experiences, sometimes immediately and sometimes over time. He said kids may have trouble sleeping or become irritable. He says often, just talking about the experience can help. First Call is a local crisis support and referral agency that is ready to support families dealing with what is happening in South Burlington. They can be reached 24/7 at 488-7777.

Friday press conference with South Burlington Police, school officials:

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