A worrisome message from school district officials alerted parents on April 22 that a “hold in place” order had been enacted at all Lower Keys schools while police investigated a report of a “possible school threat.” 

The hold-in-place order, which allows instruction to continue but restricts movement on campus while an investigation takes place, was lifted about two hours later, once police had determined there was no danger at the school, district officials said.   

Further investigation by the Keys Weekly revealed the threat was made by one Key West High School student to another.

Multiple parents of uninvolved KWHS students contacted the Keys Weekly over the weekend and on April 25, concerned about the nature of the threat after hearing more specific information from their own children.

“My (child) said ‘tons of students’ were talking about it. Apparently, two students had had an argument or altercation, and one texted the other, ‘I don’t fight; I shoot,” said the parent of a 10th grader, who spoke with the Keys Weekly on April 25. That parent and others provided their names to the Keys Weekly, but asked not to be identified in print to protect their children from potential retaliation. 

After speaking with parents, the Keys Weekly emailed Schools Superintendent Theresa Axford, school district spokeswoman Amber Acevedo and Police Chief Sean Brandenburg on April 25. The email relayed questions and concerns parents had expressed to the newspaper: Is the student who sent the text still on campus daily? Does he have access to firearms? Was there a gun on campus? Were his parents contacted? Was he disciplined or arrested? 

Axford and Acevedo responded promptly on Monday night, saying an update would be sent to parents on April 26, and Key West police provided the newspaper with incident reports early that morning.

The police report states that the student who reported the threat identified the suspect by name and told officers the suspect had had “an issue with another student and threatened to retrieve his gun and shoot the student and the school up.”

The suspected student was not on campus Friday, and police went to his Key West home to investigate. “No weapons were located at his home or on his person. … Administration advised that the suspect would be provided alternative education,” the police report states.

No charges were pressed, and no arrests were made, the report states.

The school district’s update to parents on April 26 stated, “Key West Police on Friday investigated a report of a possible school threat and, after interviewing the students implicated at off-campus locations, determined there was no threat to students. The report was made via text tip to the Key West High School Resource Officer at about 9:30 a.m. A student at the high school had overheard what was thought to be threatening language and sent in a text tip. KWPD and administration responded immediately with a hold-in-place while the investigation took place,” the update states.

Alternative education is provided in a classroom that’s separate from the main campus to students who are not successful in a typical school setting or who have behavior problems. 

“The whole incident was handled with the utmost care and the police were amazing,” Superintendent Axford told the Keys Weekly. “We have an outstanding partnership with law enforcement and we work as a team.”

The School Text Tip program was created by Florida Keys resident Shawn Verne and donated to the school district. It provides each school with a designated number to which any student can send an anonymous tip to school administrators and school resource officers. In the past, tips have included students’ concerns about students considering suicide, bullying issues and potential threats of violence or weapons on campus.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.