For the fourth time in a month, a teenage student in Southwest Washington could face criminal charges related to weapons and violence in schools.
The Kalama Police Department on Monday arrested a 15-year-old Kalama High School freshman who reportedly told a classmate he wanted to aim an “automatic machine gun” at a demonstration on campus supporting the LGBTQ community.
Fellow students staged the demonstration — a walkout — after a transgender classmate was reportedly assaulted by another classmate last week.
The student who is said to have made the threat Monday left the campus shortly afterward making his statement, according to Kalama Police Chief Ralph Herrera. His mother eventually brought him to law enforcement after she learned her son was sought by police.
“The classmate was concerned enough to make administrators aware of the statements that were made,” Herrera told OPB.
“The threat occurred on school grounds, in general proximity to the group of demonstrators at a bus loop circle area,” Herrera continued.
According to Herrera, the student’s parents said he had no access to weapons. In their investigation forwarded to the Cowlitz County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, officers recommended a misdemeanor charge of disrupting school activities, Herrera said.
“While it was a credible threat, it was not an actionable threat,” he said.
The student’s arrest is the latest in a string of incidents with violent implications from teens in the region shortly after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 21 people, mostly elementary school children.
OPB is not naming the students as they are juveniles.
On May 30, Vancouver Police Department officers arrested a Wy’east Middle School 8th grader who posted a photo of a gun with a caption “everyone is gonna die tomorrow mostly 8th graders.” Several students circulated the photo and alerted police. That student has not been charged.
Two of the incidents involved students bringing guns to school intending to defend themselves from others.
On May 31, Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested a 15-year-old for bringing a pistol to Skyview High School. Deputies said the student brought the .22 caliber Phoenix semiautomatic pistol for self-defense. The student is facing two charges: second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and possessing a dangerous weapon on school facilities.
On May 26, Vancouver Police officers arrested a Heritage High School student after they found a handgun, bullets and a magazine in his backpack. The police department said the student “had no intention of hurting himself or anyone else.” That student also faces second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and possession a dangerous weapon on school facilities.
Andrew Estep, executive director of the Washington State Parent Teacher Association, said it’s difficult to put the spate of incidents into perspective because there’s a lack of data around weapon violence and threats in schools.
“Nobody is tracking that data. It would be nice if somebody was,” Estep said. “Yes, it feels like a lot. And it is in the news now and that makes it feel worse. It’s hard to say what is normal.”
Herrera, the Kalama police chief, said tensions seem higher from a law enforcement perspective. He noted that Monday’s incident saw multiple agencies descend on Kalama High School in short order, including the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office, Washington State Patrol and police agencies from Longview and Woodland.
“The mere whisper of a threat on campus is going to demand an overwhelming response,” Herrera said. “I was extremely encouraged by what I was part of.”
As he continued to describe the rapid response and the effort to put multiple schools into lockdown, Herrera also described the need for such a response as “unfortunate and very disappointing.”