Sarasota County schools experience shooting threats over two days
A view of the Riverview High School courtyard. Photo courtesy of Kaden Rusek.

Sarasota County schools experience shooting threats over two days

On Jan. 31, Riverview High School and Lakeview Elementary School in Sarasota received anonymous shooting threats. At approximately 11:05 a.m., Riverview High was sent into lockdown, and students were instructed to take shelter within classrooms and locker rooms for more than 30 minutes. Parents were sent a message informing them of the situation at hand;  however, students themselves remained unaware of what was happening.

According to USAFacts, school shootings increased by 124 percent between the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. From 2000 to 2022, there have been 1,375 school shootings in the United States; in 2022 alone, there were 327 incidents, resulting in 81 deaths and 269 injuries.

Despite these statistics, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 543, allowing Florida residents to legally carry a firearm without a permit. This bill took effect in July 2023. The law still requires that concealed carriers must be 21 years of age or older and they must have a valid form of identification. They must also be legal U.S, residents.

According to Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a non-profit organization that keeps an online record of gun violence incidents, there were approximately 2,000 gun-related incidents in the state of Florida in 2023. Sixteen incidents took place in Sarasota,  while Bradenton had 17. Of the 2,000 incidents state-wide, 70 were considered to be school shootings.

Freshman Kaden Rusek told the Catalyst about  his recent experience at Riverview High.

“All I remember, I was in my home room class at the end of 4th period around 11:05, and campus security was telling everyone to get into the locker rooms. We sat there for the next 30-40 minutes, then went to lunch,” Rusek stated in an email interview. “During the last few minutes of the day, we were told over the announcements not to leave the classrooms until dismissal.

“We were not informed about what was happening, but my parents mentioned getting a message from the school,” Rusek  recalled. “Overall, I don’t feel safe in school, and this whole situation frightens me. It worries me about what could happen after just the threats.” 

The Catalyst also spoke via email with Sarasota County School Board Director of Communications and Government Affairs Craig Maniglia, who offered insight on protocol regarding school threats.

“All threats to our school campuses are treated as credible while the investigation is conducted by our police department and local law enforcement,” Maniglia explained. “When the threats are deemed non-credible we will continue the investigations to hold those accountable for making the false threat. When a threat is received that indicates there is a shooter/weapon on campus or any type of threat to cause bodily harm, a school will use standard  protocols to ensure safety is met until we can verify the threat to be false or non-credible. Messaging is sent out to those families very soon after the threat is received, alerting them that the school is in lockdown or secured perimeter. Additional messaging is sent as new information becomes available.”

Although students apparently are not informed directly about an ongoing situation, the school board seems to be transparent with parents and legal guardians.

Parents of Lakeview Elementary students received the following message from Principal Lisa Wheatley: “Over the past two days, several Sarasota County Schools have been the target of repeated non-credible reports regarding some of our schools through FortyFI. These reports have been one or two-word descriptions. In the case of Lakeview’s reports, the word used was ‘shooter.’ Per the school district’s safety procedures, our school-based police department and local law enforcement partners have engaged in an investigation and determined the threat is not credible. The continued false reporting is under an active investigation with hopes of a swift resolution to stop continued false reporting.”

FortyFI is a reporting tool that allows users to report suspicious activity to law enforcement and school officials. The application was created and funded by the Florida Legislature as part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act in 2018.

Maniglia went on to provide details regarding the Lakeview incident. “In this particular case, the threat occurred twice over a two-day period. Messaging was sent out both days, alerting families of the potential threat and when it was cleared. The person responsible for the false threat was apprehended by our SCSPD [Sarasota County Schools Police Department] and charged with a felony.

“Needless to say these false threats or hoaxes are a major distraction to the learning environment and Sarasota County Schools will prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law,” Maniglia concluded.

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