Anonymous student helped crack case for Marshfield school bomb threat investigation

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MARSHFIELD, Wis. (WSAW) -- When two 17-year-old girls were arrested Tuesday for making terrorist threats at Marshfield High School, school resource officer Matt Barres credits an anonymous tip from a student for breaking the case.

Photos of threats written in bathrooms at Marshfield High School

A staff member reported a bomb threat scrawled on a bathroom stall around noon on Monday. Upon investigation, multiple threats were found in other bathrooms, accompanied with a date—December 18. The discovery kicked off a review of video surveillance in the school, trying to pinpoint when the threats were written. Meanwhile, additional officers were posted in and around the school district Tuesday.

Ofc. Barres says the break in the case came when a student sent an anonymous tip later Monday night. The tip gave information on when the threat may have been written, which helped investigators narrow down suspects.

“In speaking to them, we didn’t have any indication that there was any actual follow-through to make or put a bomb in school,” Ofc. Barres said. “Speaking with them, they…were joking around or were looking for a day off of school, essentially.”

Every threat is taken seriously, Barres said, and this one in particular caused a lot of “panic and fear” in the school district. “We had so many kids that were afraid to come to school, kids that didn’t come to school at all because they were afraid of what may happen.”

“I know kids are apprehensive in wanting to come forward,” Barres said. “You’re doing the right thing. You’re stepping up and doing the right thing. If it involves…violence to kids or harm to the school or kids, you’re not going to be shamed for stepping up and doing the right thing.”

Charges of making a terrorist threat are the most common brought against suspects found to be making violent threats at school, with another student in Fond du Lac also being charged with the same in the past two weeks.

Ofc. Barres explained that the charge fits most of these types of investigations. “Anybody that threatens damage to the premises or harm to anybody, and creates panic or fear or possible evacuation of school premises.”

He also has advice for parents: make sure children know the seriousness of making a threat and understand the consequences. "Whether it be school consequences or expulsion or being charged with making those kind of threats, is a possibility," he noted.

The bomb threat in Marshfield follows on the heels of violence and both substantiated and unsubstantiated threats of violence in school districts across Wisconsin since the beginning of the month—resulting in lockdowns, investigations, increased police presences, or canceled classes in Waukesha, Oshkosh, West Bend, Sparta, Germantown, Antigo, Nekoosa, Marshfield, Fond du Lac—and just today, Middleton.

Marshfield School District superintendent Dr. Ryan Christianson told NewsChannel 7 that the district relies on the state Department of Justice’s guidance in responding to threats, while collaborating closely with the Marshfield Police Department. In 2017, Wisconsin Act 143 established the Office of School Safety at the DOJ, which established a school threat assessment protocol that is utilized by many districts around the state. The guidelines help establish threat levels and best practices for responding to and preventing threats. It also requires every school district to implement a school safety plan.

NewsChannel 7 reached out to several area school districts for threat numbers for the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 school years. The D.C. Everest School District had none for the first, and one credible threat against an individual so far this school year. Both the Wausau School District and Marshfield School District had one threat in the 2018/2019 school year, and have had one so far this school year. The Stevens Point School District did not have a way to specifically pull the data, and the Merrill School District did not respond in the timeframe requested.