Libby police chief briefs City Council on school threat

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Libby Police Department’s investigation into a shooting threat at Libby Middle/High School is almost complete, Police Chief Scott Kessel told the Libby City Council at its Oct. 15 meeting.

Juvenile suspect have been identified, he said, but the department was awaiting analysis of evidence from the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation and the FBI.

“We’ve identified the group, but as far as what we know and what we can prove at this time, we’ll wait for the evidence to get here from these outside resources,” he said.

Monday’s meeting was the first opportunity for Kessel to apprise the entire council of the threat, which was discovered in a boys bathroom on Oct. 4 and suggested that a shooting would occur at the school on Oct. 10.

Much of what Kessel told the council reflected what he told parents and children during a community meeting held Oct. 9 in the school gym — including that the school notified police soon after learning about the threat, that police called in outside resources for assistance, and that, despite the FBI advising that students were not in imminent danger, local law enforcement increased its presence at area schools during class, homecoming and other activities.

Kessel also told the council what law enforcement and school officials learned from the community’s response to not being notified about the threat and having learned about it on Facebook.

“The biggest complaint the community had was the way people were or were not notified, and the department’s going to take an active role in that in the future,” Kessel said. “[In the future,] instead of allowing the school district to decide what they think is appropriate [to release] we’ll weigh in, and if need be we’ll put it out ourselves as far as vital information [is concerned].”

Releasing certain information sooner rather than later “may set us back a little bit from the investigative phase,” Kessel said, “but we’d be able to make that ground up.”

School officials have said they decided not to announce the threat in deference to law enforcement’s assessment that danger was not imminent and out of fear of creating unnecessary panic.

“At no time would we ever place students and staff in danger,” Superintendent Craig Barringer said at the Oct. 9 community meeting.

Kessel also told council members he is trying to find funding to hire a school resource officer, a position that he said is “way overdue” and an effort he has said he’s been working on since before the threat was made.

“The purpose of the [school resource officer] isn’t to have an armed presence in the schools — that’s a secondary role,” Kessel said. “The [school resource officer] is going to help identify those children that may display this type of [threatening] behavior down the road ... in the hopes that we can identify it and neutralize it before this child acts out.”

Kessel said the position, including salary and benefits, would cost about $52,000 annually — an amount that neither the city or the school district can afford right now, though the latter might be able to contribute some amount, he said.

The school resource officer could use one of the vehicles the department has planned to keep as a spare following the upcoming delivery of new vehicles, he said, and because he would hire an experienced officer there would be no need to send him or her to the police academy.

When school is out for the summer, the department could use the school resource officer as an additional resource during busy times, vacations and the like, Kessel said.

“In the meantime, we’re going to start putting on extra patrols going through the schools more than we are or have been in the past,” Kessel said. “That will be just a regular way of doing business for us now.”

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