Students stayed home by the thousands Thursday after a person on Facebook threatened to go on a school shooting rampage.
The person, identified by the screen name Christos Fixed Giannis, is the target of a large-scale cyberspace hunt which now involves the TBI and could soon include the FBI.
“If we find who did this, they are in a lot of trouble – and I mean a lot of trouble,” said Sheriff Jackie Matheny, whose officers were stationed at area schools Thursday morning.
Word of the threat made by the Facebook terrorist began to circulate Wednesday afternoon and spread quickly through social media. The postings were made by the unidentified individual on the Facebook memorial site for Caitlin Talley who was killed last year in an automobile accident.
On the site, Giannis made insulting comments about the deceased teen prompting others to respond. It was in response to one of the return posts that Giannis threatened to get guns from his house, kill his father, and come to school and kill 200 students before killing himself.
The threat was taken seriously by both school officials and parents with 43 percent of the entire Warren County School System population absent from class Thursday.
The number of absences was 2,908 out of the 6,654 total students in the school system. When compared to a normal day where about 6 percent of the student body is absent, Thursday saw a 700 percent increase in absenteeism. There were many more students who checked out early, leaving the halls at most schools like ghost towns Thursday afternoon.
“I appreciate the reaction from the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and the McMinnville Police Department,” said Warren County High School principal Tony Cassel. “They are taking this seriously, not only here but at all the schools countywide.”
Along with the extra officers at WCHS, the school had its SRO officers and available teachers in the front lobby checking visitors into the building. All other exterior doors were locked and had signs posted that students were not allowed to open them.
When asked if he had safety concerns, the principal pointed out his child was at school Thursday
“Absolutely none. My child is at school today,” Cassel said. “Most of the teachers’ children are at school today. We are taking all the safety precautions and doing what is necessary to ensure students are protected.”
That being said, Cassel said he did not want to criticize those who kept their children at home.
“I don’t blame parents for keeping their children home when they have concerns,” Cassel said. “This situation generated from social media. Social media can be your best friend, or your worst enemy.”
Given the unusual circumstances, Director of Schools Bobby Cox said principals have been told the absences can be counted as excused for Thursday. The same will not be true today.
“We’ve got to get back to business as usual,” Cox said, noting there will still be heightened security Friday. “This was a very unfortunate incident.”
The few students who did show up for school Thursday were appreciative of the law enforcement presence. McMinnville Police Chief Bryan Denton said that’s exactly why officers made such a visible presence.
“We realize the information that’s been going around and don’t know if it’s founded or unfounded,” said Denton. “We want to do what we can to make parents feel safe about sending their kids to school and make the kids feel safe.”
Law enforcement is calling what happened a criminal incident as local authorities are coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security and TBI. They are determined to find the Facebook poster.
However, they admit there is a good chance Giannis is not from this area since he made similar posts to a memorial site of a teen who died in Texas. Posts there, which he left under the same name, included the exact wording of insults he left on the Talley site here, although he did not leave a threat on the Texas site.
Under federal law, posting a public threat to do harm is considered the crime of making terrorist threats. The crime carries up to five years in prison.