McHenry County has seen its share of school threats in 2018

Study finds parents, students fear a shooting could happen at their school

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a series of stories examining violence in schools.

For Woodstock mom Lisa Markowitz, the thought of sending her 9-year-old son to school has been met with anxiety after police said an older boy arrived at her doorstep and threatened to have gang-affiliated family members kill her son.

Markowitz said the incident started days earlier at Clay Academy in Woodstock, when the 15-year-old boy threatened to shoot her third-grader in the head with a shotgun.

School officials have said the teen was suspended two days in connection with an off-campus incident. Administration wasn’t aware of any threats made on school property, Woodstock School District 200 communications director Kevin Lyons said in an email.

“I want my son to be protected,” Markowitz said. “I want my son to go to school and not have to see the person who is threatening him on a day-to-day basis.”

Prosecutors similarly charged the teen with disorderly conduct in connection to the confrontation police said happened May 18 at the Markowitzes’ house.

Markowitz isn’t alone in her concern. A recent Pew Research study found that a majority of U.S. teens worry a shooting could happen at their school. The study, published April 18, also claims that parents of teenagers feel a similar level of concern, with 63 percent saying they’re somewhat worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their child’s school.

What is a mass shooting?

A universal definition of the term is hard to pin down because it does not yet exist, and the federal government doesn’t keep a running log of school shootings.

A database created by The Washington Post might provide an accurate look at the figures people are searching for amid calamities such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The database tracks acts of gunfire that have happened at primary or secondary schools since the Columbine High School massacre.

How likely is it?

The Washington Post’s database shows 215,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine. At least 141 students, educators and others have been killed in assaults, and 284 more have been injured.

According to the Academy for Critical Incident Analysis, there were 294 identified cases of school shootings in 38 countries between 1764 and 2009.

By those numbers, the chances of being directly affected by a school shooting might seem slim; however, a May 16 incident at Dixon High School hit closer to home when 19-year-old Matthew A. Milby Jr. opened fire near a gym where a group of about 180 seniors were rehearsing for graduation.

Gov. Bruce Rauner honored Dixon High School resource officer Mark Dallas as a “hometown hero” for bringing the chaos to a halt when the shooter fired at Dallas and the officer shot back.

Threats in McHenry County

A 2016 Illinois State Police crime report shows that 153 firearms were involved in school-related crimes that year.

Most of those guns were fakes. Semi-automatic pistols made up the second-largest category of guns used.

Of those 153 incidents, only two could be traced back to McHenry County, which reported one situation involving a fake gun in Marengo and a second with an unknown firearm in Woodstock. The county, however, has seen a number of violence-related scares in 2018 alone.

Two adults in McHenry County currently are facing charges under an Illinois statute that specifically targets threats made to a school, and 16 juvenile cases were filed under the same statute between Jan. 1, 2017, and Monday, McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney John Gibbons said.

An 18-year-old was arrested in February at Cary-Grove High School after the circulation of three photos containing threats posted to Facebook and Snapchat. Another 18-year-old faces disorderly conduct charges in connection with alleged threats to use toxic gas at Faith Lutheran School in Crystal Lake.

For Markowitz, the threat of violence at one of her children’s schools is a matter of when rather than what if.

“They’re waiting for something to happen, and then they’re going to do something about it,” Markowitz said. “And then it’s going to be too late, because somebody’s going to get hurt.”

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