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Cary-Grove attendance low after unfounded social media threat

CARY – A social media threat reported Monday at Cary-Grove High School rattled the community by Tuesday, turning the campus into what one parent described as a “ghost town.”

Although authorities investigated the incident and deemed the threat unfounded, the school increased police presence on campus, Principal Neil Lesinski said in an email to parents.

Cary resident Cindy Regennitter sent her daughter to classes Tuesday because there would be more police to secure the school – but not all parents did the same.

“My daughter texted me from class and said it’s like a ghost town,” Regennitter said. “There’s hardly anyone there – maybe 10 people in her first class. I had to have a long conversation with my husband on whether or not to send her. We decided if we don’t send her, when would be a good day to send her? What if it happens the next day? Are we going to live in fear of the unknown?”

The incident marked the second time since January that Cary-Grove officials and police investigated a social media threat at the school. A “broad” social media threat delivered Jan. 31 sparked an Cary police investigation that revealed there was no actual threat to students or the school.

The source of the latest Cary-Grove scare was three photos of social media threats circulated Monday night on Facebook and Snapchat involving violent acts.

Multiple people reported the images to police about 7 p.m. Monday, Cary Police Deputy Chief Jim Fillmore said. An investigation revealed a complex history behind the threat.

One of the images was fabricated, a second image was reposted but not created by the person whose name was attached to it, and a third image contained false information distributed by multiple individuals in response to the fabricated image.

“The initial broadcast was manipulated and sent out again to try to amplify more of a disturbance,” Fillmore said, “so we obviously have to look further into this because that caused a lot of people to be alarmed.”

Police are looking at pressing serious charges, felonies, for whoever sent the images, Fillmore said.

Investigators interviewed one person who appeared be the source of the initial image, but authorities learned that was false, according to a security update released Tuesday by the village of Cary.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Cary Police Department continued to investigate the threat and images with the FBI.

School officials notified parents and students about the incident at
10 p.m. Monday, alerting them that more information would follow Tuesday.

District 155 communications director Shannon Podzimek said the district works with police to make sure information shared with families is timely and accurate.

Cary-Grove made two security changes effective Tuesday in response to the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, and concerns from students and parents on social media. The changes included limiting which doors students can use to enter the building in the morning and during lunch periods.

Podzimek did not answer questions about attendance at the school, steps the district took after the threat or the status of any students involved in the threats. She referred questions on the social media post and investigation to Cary police.

Regennitter said she did not feel the school district did a good job of communicating with parents.

An email was sent at 8:55 a.m. Tuesday, she said, but the Cary-Grove mother wished officials reached out earlier to allow parents to decide whether to send their children to school.

Senior Kaitlyn Grassel attended school Tuesday and said she believes many students didn’t attend because parents want to prove a point about the need for more communication.

“I feel like rumors start on social media because the school doesn’t talk about it unless something happens like today,” Grassel said. “Someone posts something on Snapchat or Instagram, and word spreads quickly.”

Schools need to be more engaged with students with mental illness, Grassel said.

“It’s unfortunate my siblings have to go to school and be scared,” she said, “but as an older sibling, I have to stay strong and reassure them we can’t be scared all the time.”

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