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Teens arrested, accused of threatening high schools

Two other recent threats against UCS junior high schools investigated

By: Eric Czarnik | C&G Newspapers | Published March 6, 2018

 Johnson

Johnson

 McElrath

McElrath

 Evans

Evans

UTICA/SHELBY TOWNSHIP/STERLING HEIGHTS — Utica Community Schools and local police are announcing their intent to protect students’ safety following five recent, separate reports of student threats, with threats allegedly directed toward Eisenhower, Ford and Utica high schools, as well as Eppler and Shelby junior high schools.

On March 8, Shelby Township police forwarded an email signed by Eisenhower High School Principal Jared McEvoy that mentions an incident that reportedly took place that morning.

“We became aware this morning that a student made threatening comments during lunch yesterday,” the email says. “The student was brought to the main office immediately this morning and has been removed by the Shelby Township police. The Police Department will continue its investigation working closely with Eisenhower administration.”

Shelby Township Deputy Chief Mark Coil confirmed before press time that Shelby Township police were investigating the case and a male student from Eisenhower.

The department later identified the suspect as 17-year-old Eisenhower senior Stephen Johnson, and said he “had made several threatening statements to his classmates during school hours.” Police said that only airsoft weapons were discovered during a search of Johnson’s home.

The department also said Johnson was arraigned in 41-A District Court in Shelby Township before Judge Douglas Shepherd March 9, and Johnson was charged with making a terrorist threat or a false report of terrorism. Police said bond was set at $100,000 with no 10 percent option.

A court representative said Johnson’s next court date is March 29. Johnson’s attorney, William Staugaard, said he is waiting for the discovery materials from the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, and he added that he hasn’t seen any of the reports or witness statements that have been accumulated by the police or school in connection with this matter.

“We’ll see what the police reports and the witness statements say when we get those materials,” Staugaard said.

“Mr. Johnson has absolutely no prior record whatsoever. Nothing on his school record — he hasn't ever been in trouble in school. So we look forward to having the opportunity to review those materials,” Staugaard said.

Shelby Township hasn’t been the only police department investigating reports of student threats.

The Sterling Heights Police Department announced March 7 that it reportedly found out March 6 about a threat that was supposed to target Henry Ford II High School March 8.

The threat — which allegedly resembled the attack that took place Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida — was witnessed on social media by a student who attends Mohegan High School in Clinton Township, the report indicates.

Sterling Heights police reportedly arrested a suspect, identified as Ethan McElrath, 17, from Sterling Heights. McElrath reportedly never went to Ford.

He was subsequently arraigned in the 41-A District Court in Sterling Heights before Judge Stephen Sierawski. According to police, the suspect was charged with making threats of domestic terrorism, a felony that can be punished with 20 years maximum imprisonment if found guilty. Bond was reportedly set at $20,000 or 10 percent, and a tether was ordered, police said.

According to a 41-A District Court representative, McElrath had no attorney listed, and his next court date was scheduled for March 19.

According to Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski, McElrath attended Mohegan High School in the Chippewa Valley Schools district. The chief said it was unclear why Ford was reportedly targeted, adding that the alleged threat occurred on Snapchat.

“Obviously, many cities around us are dealing with the same problem — an increased threat to students, to our schools — and we are not taking this lightly,” he said. “We had 15 detectives and officers working on this the second this came in.”

Dwojakowski said there will be no leeway offered to youths who threaten schools, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The chief encouraged parents to talk to their kids and warn them of the consequences for such behavior.

“It just will not be tolerated,” he said.

In a separate incident, a March 6 statement from the Shelby Township Police Department describes how police were recently alerted to what they described as a “credible” social media threat to Utica High School. Police and school officials reportedly were able to investigate the threat with the help of students.

Police said they also executed a search warrant at a suspect’s home the evening of March 5 and allegedly found guns, replicas and ammunition.

Police arrested an 18-year-old Utica High School senior, Timothy Evans. He is being accused of making a terrorist threat or a false report of terrorism, and he reportedly was arraigned before Shepherd March 6 at the 41-A District Court in Shelby Township. Bond was set at $75,000 with no 10 percent option.

According to a court representative, Evans has a scheduled probable cause hearing March 19 and a preliminary exam slated for March 26. Evans’ listed attorney, Corey Silverstein, declined to comment on the case.

In the Shelby Township police statement, Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith warned the public that his office will prosecute threats that target schools.

“Calling a threat a prank or a joke is not a valid defense,” he said. “I urge parents and educators to continue to have these hard conversations with our youth, explaining to them the long-term ramifications of making a threat in this day and age.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel made the same point Feb. 20 at a press conference about the county’s ability to monitor school surveillance camera feeds — including Utica High School’s — at the Macomb County Department of Roads and COMTEC Thomas S. Welsh Building in Mount Clemens.

Hackel wishes to see more publicity regarding discipline or prosecution of students who issue threats, so that such incidents are not viewed as harmless pranks.

“Maybe draw some media attention to what happens to those people if and when they are found,” Hackel said. “More times than not, we do discover who those people are. And I know we have a prosecutor here, Eric Smith, who doesn’t take that lightly. He will actually charge those kids.”

In addition, two other incidents of threatening behavior at UCS schools reportedly were brought to officials’ attention March 1. One reportedly involved a written note at Eppler Junior High School.

Utica Police Chief Sean Coady said police aren’t minimizing the threat, regardless of how credible it was.

“I’m not going to discuss too much about it. We’ve got a juvenile involved,” he said. “All I can tell you is that my detective is looking into the matter.”

The other threatening incident reportedly happened on social media and related to Shelby Junior High School, a school official said.

UCS spokesman Tim McAvoy declined to comment about particular suspects, citing student privacy issues. But he addressed the district’s response.

“I think any threat against school safety is taken seriously, and we work hard and will continue to work hard with our students, that any threat will have serious consequences from both the district and law enforcement,” McAvoy said.

Anyone who has more information about these incidents is encouraged to contact the Sterling Heights Police Department at (586) 446-2800, the Utica Police Department at (586) 731-2345, or the Shelby Township Police Department at (586) 731-2121.