Maranacook High School was open Monday despite a Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office investigation into a threat to “shoot up the school,” made over the weekend in a chat room with students from the school.

And while the school was open, some parents chose to keep their children home after hearing about the threat on Facebook.

Superintendent Jay Charette said “attendance was low and there was a high rate of dismissals.”

Kennebec County Sheriff’s Lt. Chris Read issued a statement Monday morning saying the Sheriff’s Office “is investigating a vague threat that was made to students.”  

“Over the weekend some students from Maranacook High School were in a chat room when (one) of them allowed someone into the chat,” the statement read. “The stranger made a threat to ‘shoot up the school.’ However, the threat was not directed at a particular school and at this point is not even known if that person was in the State of Maine.”

Read said Maranacook staff and officials “were made aware of the incident and there has been extra law enforcement presence at the high school.”

Charette issued a short statement on the school’s website titled “Response to Concern” at 8:37 a.m. Monday.

“This communication is being sent to provide information based on a concern that was brought to the attention of administration late this weekend via social media,” the statement read. “Administration did contact law enforcement.  The concern was investigated and it was determined that it was not credible.  Safety is our top priority. We have asked law enforcement to maintain a presence on the Maranacook campus throughout the day along with heightened awareness of safety protocols at all of our buildings.”

Some parents of children who attend Maranacook Middle School, which is next to the high school, were not pleased with Charette’s statement.

Larry Stewart said his wife was picking up their 11-year-old daughter, Alexandria, after initially sending her to school Monday morning, then hearing about the threat. He said he texted his daughter while she was at school and she said she was scared.

“Even the title (of the statement) was a little bit less than what I expected,” he said. “In any crisis-management situation, the worst thing that can be done … is not sending out information.”

Stewart said a friend sent him a screenshot of a post on Facebook from 9:30 p.m. Sunday detailing the threat. The post, written by Steve Roy, said:

“My daughter was on an app called houseparty and a kid joined in with a bloody mask and said he was going to shoot the school up. We notified the school principal and he said he didn’t think it was a creditable [sic] threat. We notified the Sheriffs office tonight and they are looking into it. My daughter is not going to school tomorrow I consider all threats a potential reality. Just want to share and make aware!!!!”

Houseparty is an application that allows users to have group video chats with their friends.

Stewart said parents should have been notified earlier by school officials, instead of learning about the perceived threat through social media posts.

“We get notified if our kid’s lunch accounts are over by a dollar, but nothing in regards to a threat,” he said. “Whether it’s perceived as credible or not, a threat is a threat.”

Charette said school officials notified the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office when they heard the complaint Sunday. When asked how the district determined that the threat was not credible, he said the district “relied” on the county’s expertise, and kept both the middle and high school open on Monday.

“We pretty much turned it over to them right from the get-go,” he said. “We had to rely on their investigation.”

Jenna Wight, who said she has two daughters in the Maranacook school district, ages 9 and 13, echoed Stewart’s point on earlier notification, adding it should not have taken around 12 hours to notify parents.

“I understand not causing panic, but I was definitely panicking after not hearing from the school at all until 8:45 (a.m.),” she said. “I mean, we get calls at 5 a.m. if there is no school due to a storm.”

Stewart said he hoped the school thinks about its emergency notification procedure if a threat were to be made in the future. He said he is concerned about the growing number of school shootings in the country.

“It’s a valid concern for any parents and it’s too bad that it has to be,” Stewart said. “I’ll have to sit down with my daughter when she gets home and talk to her about.”

Read told the Kennebec Journal he did not have any more information on the individual that made the threat.

Charette said it was a learning experience for him a superintendent, and said administrators will “definitely improve” on their communication.

“We were doing the best we had with the information we had,” he said. “We were honestly trying. It was a learning experience for all of us.”

According to the school’s Facebook page, a JV football game and middle school after-school activities were canceled, and high school practices were optional.

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