Phone threat resolved at Hazel Park Junior High

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published January 24, 2023


HAZEL PARK — For the second time in as many months, a threat was made in the Hazel Park Schools district in early January. While it was resolved, officials know such incidents can happen again, and they are already thinking of ways to prepare.

The latest threat was received Monday, Jan. 9. In the span of about 15 minutes starting around 8 a.m., receptionists at Hazel Park Junior High received a series of calls from the same person.

In the first few calls, the caller reportedly made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature. Then, on the final call, they allegedly made a threat of physical violence.

“The inappropriate comments really set the tone that this is a prank,” said the district’s superintendent, Amy Kruppe. “However, you can’t say for certain that it’s a prank. You can think it, but you have to investigate it full force.”

Kruppe issued a “hold,” where students continue learning in the class but are not allowed to leave the classroom. Instead, they stay with the same teacher the entire day. This is different from a “lockdown” where staff members barricade the entrances and the students go into hiding.

The Hazel Park Police Department was immediately called in to investigate and provide additional security. Kruppe then held parent meetings at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. that day, explaining the reasons for the hold.

The decision was then made for school to resume the next day, but at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 10, a second call was received from the same person, with another threat.

“Since school hadn’t started yet, we closed down school, and we pushed hard with the police and the city manager, saying we need to figure this out — we can’t continue to have kids making these threats,” Kruppe said. “And kudos to the Police Department — they’re the ones who searched and figured out the source of the call.”

The person making the threats, it turns out, was a juvenile — something that school staff already suspected from the caller’s voice. The person lives outside the district and does not attend school in Hazel Park. Kruppe didn’t specify the caller’s age or gender, but said the motive may have been a prior relationship with students at the school. Police are now handling the matter.

The latest incident follows a situation early last month, where the mother of a student in the district made a bomb threat on the phone. Brian Buchholz, the chief of police in Hazel Park, said that two incidents might not constitute a trend, but they’re still worrying.

“It’s extremely concerning. It puts everyone on alarm anytime this happens, whether it’s a credible threat or just a prank. The people on the receiving end of the call don’t know, and neither do parents trying to decide if their kids should go to school or not, or officials trying to decide whether school should be open. It’s a lot to deal with here,” Buchholz said.

“On the police end, it takes a considerable amount of time to try and figure out where the call is coming from. It takes a lot of resources to go through it in a technological way. It also puts everything else on hold, and becomes our main focus. Not just for the school resource officer, but for everyone — our road patrol officers have to spend more time at the school, our detectives get involved, and so do our command officers. It just requires a lot of manpower,” he said.

“And really, it affects the whole community, and other communities too,” Buchholz continued. “When this happens in one community, it trickles down to other areas (inspiring possible copycats). Really, the number of threats like this seem to be increasing across the country.”

Kruppe said it seems inevitable that more threats will be received, whether at her school or in other districts. Hazel Park Schools already trains students and staff on how to assess and respond to threats. The district also has socioemotional learning programs to help students cope with mental health struggles — another way to reduce the risk of dangerous behavior.

Now, in addition, the district is forming a parent-led committee to focus on other possible safety measures such as metal detectors. The committee would research and debate the issues, and then provide their recommendations to members of the Hazel Park Board of Education, who would have the final say.

“We want to listen to their ideas, but most importantly, this has to be a true partnership,” Kruppe said. “We can’t stop people from calling, but we can work collaboratively to learn more about our children’s social media practices, the different platforms they’re on, and how to pay attention to them and be active with them, and be a part of their lives. Maybe look at their phone once in a while, and follow them on social media. In the current economy, we have so many people working hard to make ends meet, so it’s hard to find the time. But we still have to be present, and we still have to keep our children engaged.”

Kruppe also said that people should know there are severe consequences for making a threat, even in jest.

“Know this: We will hold them accountable,” Kruppe said. “I’ve had some people say to me on social media, ‘Don’t expel them.’ But look, if you’re making threats to public safety, we’re going to expel you and press charges. It can become a terrorism crime, threatening a school.

“There’s a real difference between trying to reduce suspensions by helping children work on their issues, and them breaking the law,” Kruppe said. “We’re going to push to find who makes these threats because we want children to be able to come to school and be safe. Our staff, too. We can’t take a chance by not taking things seriously.”