SKOWHEGAN — Schools in Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 were closed Wednesday after officials were alerted to a social media post showing an image of an AR-15 assault rifle accompanied by a threat.

The post on Snapchat said, “Skowhegan, February 28, 2018 you’re all DEAD.” The post later was circulated on other social media sites.

Superintendent Brent Colbry said Tuesday night that officials decided to close schools Wednesday because of “a threat posted and distributed through social media and digital communication this evening.”

“As always, the safety and well-being of our students is our top priority,” Colbry said on the district’s website. “This decision was made after consulting local law enforcement, who are aware of the situation and are working to determine the credibility of the threat.”

Colbry said later in the day Wednesday that classes will be back in session Thursday and that Skowhegan police and the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office will have a presence at each school in the district as a safety precaution.

David Bucknam, the Showhegan police chief, said the image of the AR-15 assault rifle, which is like the one used Feb. 14 in a Florida school shooting that killed 17 people, including 14 students, was posted Tuesday night.

“The Skowhegan Police Department is investigating a social media post which circulated around Facebook and Instagram depicting an AR-15 rifle and their dislike of the town of Skowhegan,” Bucknam said Wednesday morning in a statement to the Morning Sentinel.

Police did not immediately comment on any known identity of the person who posted the image and message. The social media image provided by police shows the post was made by someone using the name Ray Dar.

“I would personally like to thank the Skowhegan community and other law enforcement agencies who contacted us in reference to this post bringing it to our attention,” Bucknam said. “We received 100s of calls and texts from citizens in regards to this post. Although the picture does not directly threaten our schools, we take the safety of our community and children as our top priority, so as a precautionary measure, the Skowhegan area schools are canceled today. The Skowhegan Police Department is coordinating with the FBI and will be investigating to locate the person(s) responsible for this post and ensuring they are held responsible for their actions.”

In addition to Skowhegan, SAD 54 serves Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock and Smithfield.

The decision was made about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday to suspend classes Wednesday in all SAD 54 schools, including Skowhegan Area High School and Middle School, Bloomfield Elementary, North Elementary, Margaret Chase Smith Elementary, Marti Stevens Learning Center, Somerset Career & Technical Center and Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock and Canaan Elementary, Colbry said.

Colbry and Bucknam called an impromptu meeting Wednesday morning at the high school with the Skowhegan town manager, school principals, administrators and the school resource officer to chart a course for the day.

Bucknam said the image of the assault rifle was taken from the internet and was not a photograph taken locally. He said the person who posted the image and the threat used the name Ray Dar, which when spoken aloud sounds like “radar.”

Bucknam said police and school officials are working with the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit and the FBI to trace the internet posting to its source.

“We’re working with Computer Crimes to try to track down who posted the picture itself and from there continue on with the investigation,” he said. “Somebody’s going to have to have created that page, so we’ve just got to track it down and find out who initiated it — who created the page.”

Bucknam said charges that could be brought include threatening and terrorizing. He said his department will confer with the district attorney’s office to determine the level of crime, if charges are brought.

“We are taking every threat seriously. So is the school,” he said.

Colbry said the image began to show up on social media just before 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. He said he was notified and Assistant Superintendent Jon Moody quickly alerted police.

He said school officials have no idea who might have posted the threat.

“That’s exactly why they are involving the Computer Crimes Unit. I didn’t know the FBI was involved until this morning,” he said. “That’s what they’re doing. That’s their function,” Colbry said. “We took it seriously even though it was generic. It didn’t say a building or anything like that. We felt it was serious. We had to make the decision last night about whether to call school off. At 10 or 10:30 we made that decision. Obviously, we took it seriously. That’s why we’re not in school today. We’re hoping that we can resolve some of that — where it came from and who did it — today, so we can reassure parents and the community that everything’s OK.”

All SAD 54 schools will be open Thursday, according to a post on the school district’s web page.

Elsewhere in Maine, there have been several school threats and arrests made in the days since the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

In Farmington on Tuesday, a Mt. Blue Middle School student who was overheard making a threat to “shoot up the school” was placed under house arrest.

The boy, 13, of Farmington, made the threat within earshot of a teacher, who told Principal James Black, the Sun Journal is reporting. The incident occurred at the end of the school day and the boy was picked up by a guardian, said Shane Cote, Farmington’s deputy police chief.

No weapon was found.

Another teen was charged with terrorizing at Oceanside Middle School in Thomaston after allegedly making threats, and a 15-year-old was charged with terrorizing at South Portland High School after allegedly posting a message on social media about “shooting up the school,” the Portland Press Herald is reporting.

There also were school threats in Cape Elizabeth, Topsham and Ellsworth, according to published reports.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press is reporting that Dick’s Sporting Goods will end immediately sales of assault-style rifles in its stores and won’t sell guns to anyone under 21 years old following the school massacre in Parkland, Florida.

Dick’s operates four stores in Maine — in South Portland, Topsham, Augusta and Bangor.

In North Anson-based Regional School Unit 74, Superintendent Michael Tracy sent out a memo Wednesday to “Families and friends” of the school district, saying that “In the wake of the terrible tragedy in Florida in recent weeks, we continue to stand vigilant in RSU #74 in regard to our students’ safety.

“Our staff and administration are also aware of recent threats in local school districts. At this time, there is no evidence that these threats are substantiated or valid at this time. We take your child’s safety seriously, and ask for your help in staying calm while informing the school in the event that anything seems out of the ordinary. Parent and teacher vigilance is the #1 best form of prevention. Please reach out to your school’s administrator if you have any questions.”

Classes were in session with no problems reported in schools in Madison and in SAD 13 in Bingham and Moscow.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said Wednesday that county deputies are routinely dispatched to area schools to let residents know that there is a police presence.

“For the last couple of years the sheriff’s office has instituted a directive where deputies intermittently stop in at schools in their patrol area to interact with staff and students,” Lancaster said. “Presently we have a part-time SRO (school resource officer) for Solon, Bingham, and Carrabec through a collaboration with Somerset Heart Health. Today we are physically stopping in at schools in the county to reassure school officials that we are around.”

Officials at the Maine School Superintendents Association were in hearings at the statehouse Wednesday and were unavailable for comment on any possible plans for action at Maine schools as a result of the threats.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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