ELi runs a journalistic public service called Ask ELi to Investigate. Today we answer readers’ questions about what was going on Wednesday with all the emergency alerts.
Here’s the quick summary:
Yesterday’s emergency closure of East Lansing Public Schools and the emergency locking of the doors at East Lansing’s City Hall were both responses to a single threat of violence directed at “East Lansing.” The threat was ultimately tracked to an ELPS student.
The communications outage at Ingham County’s 911 emergency call center was unrelated.
Here are the details:
The school closures came first.
According to a message sent to ELPS families and staff by Superintendent Dori Leyko just after 9:30 a.m. yesterday (March 8), Leyko and Acting High School Principal Ashley Schwarzbek received an email at 1:40 a.m. from an ELHS student notifying them of a threatening post.
Then, “Right around 6:00 a.m. this morning, a handful of ELPS administrators and a few ELHS staff members saw an email from an individual in Texas alerting us to a post that was made on Snapchat around midnight last night.”
Leyko provided these details: “The post was of a gun and a message that said, ‘east lansing better be ready, just got this shit delivered today.’ The post was made by an unknown individual who has a username that contains the initials of a local group that may be connected to gang activity. The email was sent by an individual who says she is in Texas and wanted to make us aware of the post.”
Leyko noted that when the team looked closely at the screenshot, “we noticed the same photo of a gun with a different caption that read, ‘everyone dying at east lansing tomorrow.’”
Just after 6 a.m., Leyko contacted ELPD and “made the decision to cancel school to allow time for an investigation.” Shortly after 6:30 a.m., Leyko notified district families and staff of closure of all district schools.
The district used the new emergency text notification system. Leyko also promised an update around noon, which she delivered. (More on that below.)
Later in the morning, ELPD decided to lock City Hall due to the same threat.
At 10:52 a.m., ELPD used the emergency Nixle alert system to send this message: “ELPD is actively investigating a potential threat associated with the ELPD. We have locked all City Hall doors. ELPD staff will be present at the doors.”
This morning, ELPD Captain Chad Pride confirmed for ELi the threat that led to this door locking was the same as the threat that led to the schools’ closure.
“During our investigation,” Pride explained, “this changed from a threat to the schools to a threat to East Lansing with a potential nexus to ELPD.”
Because this is an ongoing investigation, Pride declined to say more.
Right at noon, Leyko provided an update, as she had promised. Leyko started her update by letting district families and staff know that “ELPD is actively investigating a potential threat associated with ELPD.”
Her message implied, but did not specify, that the threat was the same one. This resulted in some confusion in the community.
By mid-afternoon, as the investigation proceeded, the threat was being described differently.
At 1:23 p.m., the police provided an update via Nixle. That update described the investigation as “follow[ing] up on leads related to a potential threat to the City of East Lansing with a possible connection to ELPD.”
The update made somewhat clearer that the “potential threat” to the schools was the same as the potential threat to the police and city.
The police wrote, “While there has been no direct threat to any City or school facility, East Lansing Public Schools made the determination to be closed today and East Lansing City Hall will remain secured while the investigation progresses.”
The police also sought to reassure the public, writing, “At this time, it is believed that all necessary actions have been taken to ensure public safety. No further actions by the community are required. A shelter in place order for the community at large has not been issued and is not expected to be issued.”
Then, Ingham County’s 911 system went down.
ELPD used Nixle and Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth used the Ingham County Non-Public Alert System to announce there was a problem with Ingham County’s 911 call center operations.
The sheriff’s message, which went out to media outlets, stated, “There is a communications outage at the Ingham County 911 Center that is impacting incoming calls. At this time they are being routed to the Eaton County 911 Center and dispatchers are able to route those back to be dispatched in our county. If there are issues calling 911, please hang up and try again.”
ELPD advised of the same outage and reminded East Lansing residents they could also call the ELPD’s non-emergency number (517-319-4220) and choose option 1 to speak to a cadet.
ELi reached out to Ingham County 9-1-1 Director Barb Davidson today to get an explanation of what happened. She confirmed the outage had nothing to do with the threat.
“We had a vendor in doing annual maintenance on our UPS (uninterrupted power supply),” Davidson said. “There was a part that was due to be changed even though we were not experiencing any problems with it. The new part was installed and failed. This caused us to lose power and corrupted the path to the generator which would normally then kick on/take over. We have plans in place when these unfortunate events occur and we utilized them. The staff did a great job dealing with the abrupt change.”
She said that Eaton County rerouted the calls for about two hours.
“They answered the  call,” she explained. “The information was then given to us and we dispatched the appropriate resources. We appreciate their partnership and thank them. Having their backup is part of our plan for these kinds of situations.”
Late in the afternoon, the superintendent canceled on-site after-school activities and ELPD announced they had traced the geographic source of the threat.
Just after 4 p.m., Leyko decided to cancel all onsite after-school and evening activities in the district. She said ELPS remained “in constant communication with the police department, and she promised another update at 8 p.m.” (This was a promise on which she again delivered.)
In a Nixle alert sent at 4:40 p.m., ELPD said they had traced an IP address (which can reveal the location of the electronic device used in a communication) and they were “actively conducting a search at the IP location, including interviewing individuals to gather more information on the individual or individuals who made the threatening posts.”
Because ELPD determined at that point “that there is no direct threat to the community at large,” they lifted the special security measures at City Hall.
The suspect in the threat turned out to be an ELPS student.
In her 8 p.m. update to district families and staff, Leyko said ELPD’s search of the location associated with the IP address turned up no weapons.
“Since that visit, however,” she wrote, “an individual has confessed to posting the threats. ELPD and ELPS are in communication with the family, and the student will not be present at school.”
Leyko said she could not say more due to privacy laws and thanked ELPD “for the swift investigation…and for their communication with the district throughout this process.”
Captain Pride told ELi today, “We are still actively investigating this threat. ELPD takes threats made like this very seriously. ELPD Officers and Detectives will do whatever it takes, within the law, to hold those accountable for the threats that were made.”
The good news is the new communication system for ELPS seemed to work very well yesterday.
Parents expressed satisfaction, and Leyko also thought it succeeded.
“Based on the feedback I received,” Leyko told ELi this morning, “I think yesterday’s communication did go well. In addition to the new text feature, I also had gained some new resources about emergency communication procedures that I put into place.”
She gave as an example, “always letting people know when the next update would come, providing consistent communication even if the update didn’t change much, following some transparency guidelines about what information to provide.”
Families with children enrolled in the district are eligible to sign up for the emergency text notifications.
“The list [of those eligible] comes from Power School, our Student Information System,” Leyko explained. “The tech department sent out an option to ‘opt in’ recently, so this feature is newly implemented. I think after yesterday’s event and communication, we will have a greater response [from families].”
The bad news is the district has had a rough go lately.
“The unique closures we’ve had this school year have created a lot of disruptions to structure and routine for the adults and the students,” Leyko told ELi this morning. “I pulled together a list of this year’s closures [and it is] different than I’ve ever experienced.”
She noted there have been:
- two partial-day closures for MacDonald Middle School, one due to a neighborhood power outage, one for a sprinkler head breakage and flood;
- one ELHS-only closure on Jan. 27 following a series of safety concerns;
- one district-wide closure after the MSU shooting;
- yesterday’s district-wide closure for the social media threat;
- three district closure days for weather.
“And we’ll see what tonight’s storm brings,” Leykos said today, “although we have a scheduled staff [professional development] day tomorrow, so students are already off tomorrow.
“The totality of these district and local events have certainly added layers of stress and anxiety to many of our students and staff,” she concluded. “I’m hoping we can have a spring of normalcy and predictability.”
UPDATE, 5:15 p.m.:
ELPD has issued a press release saying the department “has identified the individual who was involved in the threat directed at East Lansing yesterday. ELPD is continuing to collect witness statements and gather evidence related to the case. Once the investigation is complete, the case will be forwarded to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office for review.”
Sign up for the Nixle emergency alert system by using your cell phone to text your zip code to 888777. Learn more here.
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