A video posted last week on the social media app that so many young people love, Snapchat, depicted an adolescent male going through the motions involved with loading a high-powered rifle. But he’s not really loading it. He pushes the empty magazine into the underside of the rifle’s stock, aims the firearm off to the side and pulls the trigger, which makes an audible “click” sound.
The juvenile in the video says nothing in the 25-second clip, but the caption he’s typed reads, “Just wait till Friday when I get alot of rounds for my baby.”
The juvenile was once a student in Crookston Public Schools.
The video was seen, shared, and seen some more. By the time the school day was about to get underway last Thursday, Jan. 9, its existence had reached Crookston School District administrators at Crookston High School. Some parents who had seen it were concerned, as were some students, the Times was told.
So if you’re Crookston School District Superintendent Jeremy Olson, what do you do at that moment? Do you immediately cancel school and send everyone home for the rest of the week? Do you put all three local public school buildings into full lockdown mode? Do you contact every law enforcement agency you can think of? Or, do you deem the video not worthy of any reaction or response at all, and the Thursday school day continues on as normal?
Olson chose none of those options, and rightly so. Instead, he found some middle ground. He contacted law enforcement and he implemented a “soft lockdown” in the schools, a situation that allows classes to continue, but classroom doors are shut and hall passes are limited. Law enforcement was also dispatched to create an additional presence at each school.
All along, Olson used the district’s instant alert electronic communications system to keep families and other subscribers to the system updated. He said the “concerning” video by the former student had triggered the response. Then, in a second message less than an hour later, Olson announced that no credible or direct threat to any schools or students or staff had been found, and the soft lockdown had been lifted.
To his credit as well, Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier called the local media at least twice as the incident unfolded and concluded, keeping them updated and in the loop. The male juvenile who posted the video was located in Grand Forks County and was being communicated with by law enforcement, Biermaier said, adding in his final phone call that he wasn’t convinced a crime had been committed.
Given the circumstances, the situation was handled properly. While Olson said the decision was made to err on the side of the safety of the local schools and the students and staff in those schools, the decision to react to the video but not underreact or overreact was also about mitigating second-guessing later.
Do nothing, and district parents would be all over social media complaining about district leaders putting their kids in harm’s way. Do too much, and parents would be all over social media complaining about district leaders unnecessarily freaking out and inconveniencing them over a video that included no direct threat to anyone or anything. Even the seemingly measured, not-too-complacent/not-too-panicky response wasn’t immune from an intense debate online from parents and students who disagreed vociferously on the video’s threat level and the district’s reasponse to it.
But this was solid leadership based on a sound decision, and it deserves a mention here. As it turns out, in another apparently sound decision, the person who made the video, after being talked to by law enforcement, won’t be charged.