More than a thousand Connellsville Area High School students assembled at the high school auditorium Thursday morning for a talk from Fayette County District Attorney Rich Bower and other law enforcement officials focusing on the seriousness of gun violence threats following multiple unsubstantiated threats made at the high school.
Speakers included Bower, Connellsville City Police Chief Bill Hammerle, state police Trooper Robert Broadwater and interim Superintendent David McDonald.
“I can tell you right now that everyone in this room, the administration, the school board, police, juvenile probation … and my office have a zero tolerance policy,” Bower said. “You make a threat, you will be arrested.”
Bower recalled being a 5-foot-6, 110-pound, curly-haired, “nerdy” student who was picked on when he attended Connellsville Area High School, adding that he found that some of his fellow students who had been popular during their school days together went on to face legal troubles during his time in law enforcement.
“How many in here feel that they can’t turn to anybody to talk to about being picked on, so they go onto social media to express themselves?” Broadwater asked, seeking a show of hands. “It’s OK. Nobody? Nobody feels they can talk to anybody? There’s a lot of people you can talk to. Take a look around.”
“There’s somebody that does care,” Bower said.
A Connellsville Area High School student is facing charges for writing a threat on a restroom wall Tuesday morning, according to an automated call sent to parents from district Interim Superintendent David McDonald Tuesday afternoon.
It was the second automated call from McDonald in three school days after a message was sent to parents last Friday reporting that the district had investigated rumors of potential gun violence at the high school and career and technical center. The threat was unsubstantiated.
McDonald noted after the assembly that lockdown drills will take place in district buildings in the next several days and have been communicated to district students and parents, adding that the district’s approach to such drills is no different from standard fire drills.
McDonald said that Bower had initiated talks to hold threat-focused talks in the district earlier this week, resulting in assemblies at both the high school and middle school Thursday morning.
“We’re all in this together,” McDonald said.
The assembly’s speakers emphasized the time and resources law enforcement officials put into threats they receive and noted that an arrest and related charges stemming from a threat made to the school could be life-altering for students.
Bower said any kind of threat isn’t a joke, particularly amid heightened concerns about school safety following a shooting at a Parkland, Fla. school last week that left 17 dead.
“When you leave this auditorium, remember one thing,” Bower said. “Take care of each other. If you can do that, maybe we won’t ever have to see you like they did in Florida. I pray to God that we don’t.”