14-year-old girl charged, 1 Hamilton school closing as ‘precaution’ after string of shooting threats

Hamilton police have arrested a 14-year-old girl after a shooting threat was spotted at St. Jean de Brebeuf Catholic Secondary School this week.

Const. Indy Bharaj told CBC Hamilton the teenager was charged with mischief under $5,000 and released with some conditions.

The nature of the conditions isn’t clear. The 14-year-old can’t be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The police service said in a release it expects to make more arrests in the coming days, and more threats were received at numerous schools Thursday. Police said many of the messages threatened a shooting on Friday, prompting at least one school — Westdale Secondary School — to announce it will close Friday as a “precaution.” 

“The decision to close was made by Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) as a result of new information about a potential threat to school safety,” a notice released Thursday evening reads. “We want you to know that student safety is of the utmost importance.”

An evening performance at the school would also be postponed, it said.

As of Wednesday, four schools had received five shooting threats over the past few days. Bharaj said that as of Thursday, at least nine schools from across the city had received threats.

The schools are:

  • Hillcrest Elementary School
  • St. Jean de Brébeuf Catholic Secondary School
  • Westdale Secondary School
  • Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School
  • Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School
  • St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School
  • St. John Henry Newman Catholic Secondary School
  • Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School
  • Cootes Paradise Elementary School
  • Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School

Friday is a scheduled professional development day (P.A. day) at both the public and Catholic elementary schools, but not high schools.

The threats in Hamilton come just days after an 18-year-old opened fire inside Robb Elementary School in the Texas town of Uvalde, killing 19 Grade 4 students and two teachers. The mass shooting has renewed discussions around school safety and gun control in both the U.S. and Canada.

The Hamilton incidents also come after a student was seen with a pellet gun at Bennetto Elementary School on Wednesday.

Bharaj said police are investigating each threat separately and taking them “extremely seriously.”

He said all investigations are still active and there’s no indication it’s a social media challenge.

He said police will be looking at video surveillance, talking to any witnesses, trying to narrow down time frames to determine who may have written the threats, and looking at the writing itself. There will also be officers present at some schools on Friday.

“We as a community have to work together to figure this out. Somebody knows something and we just want them to speak up … we got to put an end to this.”

Some staff, children avoiding school

Courtney Levesque said she kept her children, ages seven and five, home from school after the threat at Hillcrest.

Levesque said she heard about the incident after coming home from a long work day Wednesday.

“My immediate thought was the shooting in Texas,” she said. “You get that immediate reaction of, ‘Oh God.'”

Levesque said hasn’t had a discussion with her kids about it yet and isn’t sure how they’ll react.

She also said hearing about other threats is even more concerning.

“It’s disgusting because you don’t know. You don’t know if it’s just all these kids not realizing how serious this is. They think it’s funny, they think it’s a joke or it’s actually a threat.”

Sergio Cacoilo, the local Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association president for Hamilton secondary schools, said staff are “very concerned.”

“Some will be staying home tomorrow. They are taking this very serious,” he told CBC Hamilton on Thursday, adding he knows of at least 25 staff members staying home.

Daryl Jerome, Hamilton’s Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president, said his members are also worried and that “roughly 95” of them may not go into work Friday.

“The members I have spoken to so far are definitely feeling anxious, but most are worried about being there for their students. They know their students are scared and nervous, and they want to do whatever they can to support them,” he said.

In an email sent to parents and guardians on Wednesday, St. Jean de Brébeuf principal Paul Di Ianni said, “Please be assured that the safety and security of our students and staff remains our priority concern and threats of any kind are taken extremely seriously.”

The same message was sent to parents and guardians by Bishop Tonnos principal Carmelo Barone. His email also said there will be stricter access to the building and classrooms and they’ll be controlling movement throughout the building as much as possible.

Hamilton’s public school board posted a public message on Wednesday saying it is working with police to investigate the threats.

“We must take seriously any threat against a school community. Any person who makes a threat must know that they will be held accountable.”

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