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Saturday, December 04, 2021
METRO  |  CRIME

Alachua County Public Schools bomb threats persist despite arrests

Seventeen bomb threats have been made across ACPS campuses in Gainesville since Aug. 19

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Update: The third arrest of an Eastside High School student was made by ACSO deputies in connection to the school's bomb threats.

Three students were charged Wednesday with making bomb threats at Eastside High School, according to the Alachua County Sheriff’s office.

The incident marked the seventeenth threat against Alachua County Public Schools since Aug. 19. 

bombthreattimeline5_Melanie_Pena.jpg
Graphic by Melanie Pena

“I’m going to shoot if you don’t make everybody clear west park. I see all of you. I have a sniper. I will shoot. RUN,” one threat read.

“imma get all the schools in newberry right now with all my guns and boms,” read another.

While the threats were empty, they had dire consequences for the students who made them. 

The bomb threats made against public school campuses in Alachua County have led to the arrests of eight high school students. Minors caught making bomb threats may be charged as adults and face a felony charge of up to 15 years in prison with a $10,000 fine, Alachua County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Kaley Behl said.

“It could easily ruin your life,” Behl said. “It’s not a joke, it doesn’t even begin to be a joke. And if anybody thought it was a joke, it certainly doesn’t sound like a joke now.”

This year, false bomb threats have been made four times to Buchholz High School with one arrest; once to Santa Fe College; four times to Newberry High School with two arrests; once to Oak View Middle School; four times to Gainesville High School with one arrest; and four times to Eastside High School with three arrests. 

Gainesville Police Department, University of Florida Police Department, Santa Fe College Police Department, High Springs Police Department, Alachua Police Department, School Board of Alachua County and the State Attorney’s Office all collaborated on Sept. 30 to address the rise in bomb threats. 

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Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones announced the Buchholz High School student who submitted a bomb threat will be charged as an adult, meaning he may serve up to 15 years in prison and pay thousands of dollars worth of fines. Jones then made a promise to the students involved in bomb and gun related threats in Alachua County.

“We cannot and will not allow these criminals to hold our community hostage,” Jones wrote. “For those who decide to pursue criminal and terrorist activity, I will devote the time, resources and energy need to successfully solve and prosecute these types of crimes to the fullest extent of the law.” 

The threats from the past few months are under investigation with search warrants and interviews being conducted, Behl said. 

April Tisher, a 44-year-old Gainesville resident and mother of a freshman and a senior at Gainesville High School, said she fears for her children’s safety. She said she had a feeling her children’s school would be next after hearing what happened at other ACPS schools.

Tisher recalls hearing about similar incidents that happened when her niece went to Buchholz five years ago, so she wasn’t shocked when she heard about the recent trend in bomb threats.

“Even though you know that it's probably just a hoax and teenagers, you're so worried and you're so concerned about the safety of your kids,” Tisher said.

Darry Lloyd, spokesperson of the State Attorney’s Office, said there is no one standard solution on how individuals involved with bomb threats are charged.

“Regardless whether you're a juvenile or an adult you can be charged with the felonies,” Lloyd said. “Whether you'd be invested as an adult and then receive adult sanctions, that's what we're really referring to.”

On Sept. 13, a 17-year-old Buchholz student was arrested by ACSO and accused of faking bomb threats. His investigation moved fast after the four bomb threats between Aug. 19 and Sept. 7.

The 17-year-old was charged as an adult and picked up by ACSO from the Juvenile Detention Center and delivered to the county jail. He is now listed as an Alachua County inmate, something that has not happened with the two Newberry, two Gainesville and two Eastside High School arrests.

Lloyd said there is no timeline to when the additional arrests will be charged and that the threats to Alachua County schools may be intertwined.

“There's no cookie cutter solution,” Lloyd said. “We have to take the evidence that is presented and they have to line up with the law.”

Tisher said she understands the pressure on teenagers can be overwhelming, especially given the difficulties posed by being an in-person student during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a mom of teenagers who don't always make good decisions, it is sad for me,” Tisher said. “I don't agree with throwing away kids, but they also have to be held accountable in a big way. Otherwise, it continues, and they will go on to do things that are worse.”

GPD spokesperson Graham Glover emphasized that submitting a bomb threat can have a grave impact. 

“These are serious threats,” GPD spokesperson Graham Glover said. “These are not childhood pranks…these are very serious crimes that these children are committing.”

ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said the district feels confident with the work of law enforcement so far. She said the behavior that she has seen in the past few months has been “absolutely out of the ordinary.”

“That's something we're going to be sharing with students in the next day or couple of days,” Johnson said. “Making these kinds of threats is going to affect your life. It’s going to haunt you for years to come, if not forever.”

Some in the Gainesville community believe that one mistake shouldn’t dictate the rest of a young student’s life.

Michael Rayburn, a 51-year-old pastor at United Church of Gainesville, said it is immoral to try children as adults. He said this decision is a failing of the criminal justice system in Alachua County, especially because the students didn’t follow through with violence.

He said making mistakes is a part of being a teenager and there should be other consequences — 15 years will completely alter the course of a child’s life for the worse due to poor prison conditions and a tainted criminal record that will follow.

“If you take that young man, and you send him to prison for 15 years, when he comes out, he's not going to be rehabilitated,” he said. “He’s going to be a much worse person, because he's going to be abused for the next 15 years.”

Contact Isabella Douglas and Jiselle Lee at idouglas@alligator.org or jlee@alligator.org. Follow them on Twitter @Ad_Scribendum or @jiselle_lee.

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Jiselle Lee

Jiselle Lee is a second-year journalism student and the East Gainesville Reporter. This is her second semester at The Alligator, and she is excited to continue her work at the Metro desk. In her spare time, she enjoys eating her way around Gainesville.


Isabella Douglas

Isabella Douglas is a second-year journalism major and the criminal justice reporter for The Alligator's Metro desk. She previously worked as a news assistant for The Alligator's University team and as a contributing writer for the New Tampa & Wesley Chapel Neighborhood News. When she isn't reporting, she can be found reorganizing her bookshelf and adding books to her ever-growing TBR.


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