Terroristic threats at MCHS

Patrick Yost News

A Morgan County High School senior was arrested on Saturday and charged with terroristic threats, disruption of a public school, and harassing communications in connection with a threatening text sent to seven high school students that led to a county-wide school lockdown.

Tysheannia Nycole Alexander, 17, Madison, was released from the Morgan County Detention Center Monday after posting a $10,000 bond.

Authorities believe Alexander was behind a threatening text sent to herself and six other students at the high school on Friday, March 16, at 10:54 a.m. The text read, “If you at school leave,” and was followed by a green gun emoji.

According to Dr. James Woodard, superintendent of Morgan County Schools, several students showed the text to high school administrators and Morgan County High School Principal  Dr. Miki Edwards informed Morgan County School Resource Officer Sgt. Kevin Berisko that the school was being placed on a Level II lockdown.

Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley said, after he was informed by Sgt. Berisko of the lockdown, approximately 20 police officers from various departments descended on the high school at approximately 11 a.m. and secured the facility. Markley said, along with deputies from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, officers from the Madison Police Department, Georgia State Patrol, and agents from both the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation responded to the threat.

“When you get something like this, you have to react,” Markley said. Markley posted in front of the Morgan County Primary School.

“We were trying to put ourselves in proximity to all the schools,” said Chief Deputy Keith Howard, who also serves as a member of the Morgan County Board of Education.

The system had planned a Level II lockdown drill for that afternoon.

Woodard said the school system issued robo-calls to the primary care givers of the more than 3,000 students registered in the system. Email alerts were also sent to parents.

After the schools were secured, Markley said, investigators began to track the origin of the message. The text message had come through an application called Text Now, which, Howard said, basically allows a user to mask the origin of their phone number. However, before students were released from school, the United States Attorney General’s Office had written and served search warrants to the producers of Text Now seeking information about users. It had also written and served a search warrant on Alexander’s phone.

The FBI, using a digital communications expert in London, England, were able to determine that, worldwide, more than 4,000 Text Now users had been using the application at the approximate time the threatening texts were sent. Of those 4,000, one phone, that of Alexander, was used in Morgan County.

Markley said the lightening response by federal and state authorities in tracking the information was impressive. “It’s amazing the technology the GBI and FBI have to track electronic fingerprints of devices,” said Markley. “The information the GBI and FBI provided led us to this student.”

Alexander was arrested at her home early Saturday afternoon.

Woodard said more than 268 students checked out early on Friday. Typically, he said, the system had approximately 100 students check out on Fridays.

When a Level II lockdown is put in place, the principal announces the lockdown through the school public address system and teachers are instructed to lock doors, open all window shades and continue teaching. Staff and students are forbidden from leaving the classroom. The school system said in printed information that an example of a Level II threat is “A threat is inside school – Angry parent or student that is verbally upset and agitated but not physically threatening at the current time.”

Both Woodard and Markley said Friday’s incident gave their organizations an opportunity to “reflect” on response procedures to threats.

Woodard said despite the possibility the threat was a joke, “I couldn’t allow it to be that.” He said administrators and law enforcement officials took the threats at face value.

He also said the threats had created “a major disruption” for the system.

“For the number of students, parents, and staff who were emotionally scarred on the heels of (the Parkland High School mass shooting), this was too much.”

Both Woodard and Edwards were at Alexander’s bond hearing before Morgan County Magistrate Judge Connie Holt Monday morning.

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