Cedar Ridge High School principal Intisar Hamidullah and school resource officer Corporal André Richmond learned of a school-shooting threat but failed to report it to their superiors or the school’s parents, according to a joint statement from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Orange County Schools.
In the statement, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood called the inaction “unconscionable.”
Outgoing OCS Superintendent Todd Wirt added, “We rely on our school principal to take the lead to protect our children, and without a doubt, we must do better.”
According to the statement—which OCS and the OCSO sent just before 5:00 p.m. Friday in response to the INDY’s questions about the timeline of events—Hamidullah discovered graffiti in the girls’ bathroom the morning of Monday, May 20, threatening that on Wednesday, May 29, “I’m shooting up this hell!! GET READY.” The writer then said they would kill themselves.
Hamidullah informed Richmond of the threat, then directed the custodial staff to remove the graffiti, the statement says. Richmond, who was to begin a weeklong vacation the next day, snapped a photo before the custodians painted over it.
“Neither the principal nor Corporal Richmond took the matter any further,” the joint statement says.
This was a violation of OCSO protocol, according to spokeswoman Alicia Stemper. SROs are supposed to report such threats to their commanding officers.
Four days later, on May 24, a student told Hamidullah about more graffiti in the same girls’ bathroom. It contained the same threat and “looked remarkably similar” to the graffiti found that Monday. Hamidullah told Deputy Cristy Faircloth, who was the SRO at Cedar Ridge while Richmond was away, about it—and that this was the third or fourth time the graffiti had been found. Faircloth photographed the threatening message at 1:11 p.m.
Here again, no one informed either the command staff at the Sheriff’s Office or OCS administrators, the statement says.
“At this point, no administrator at the district level of the school system or at the command staff level at the OCSO had been notified about either instance of graffiti,” read the statement.
This time, it appears the school did not immediately paint over the graffiti. Instead, a student found it, photographed it, and showed the image to her mother after school. Her mother called 911 to report the threat. Deputy Chavez Mendez took the report and called Richmond, who was still on vacation. Richmond, thinking that he was calling about the graffiti that had been found Monday, told Mendez that it should have been taken down by now.
Later that evening, Hamidullah alerted district officials; they began an investigation. Lieutenant Tina Sykes, who supervises school resource officers in Orange County, also learned of the threat. Over the weekend, the sheriff’s office and OCS began to plan for Tuesday, when students would return to Cedar Ridge following Memorial Day weekend.
On Tuesday, custodians removed the graffiti again, and Faircloth began reviewing security camera footage to try to uncover who made the threat. That afternoon, Hamidullah told Cedar Ridge staff what was happening, then informed parents via email and robocall. However, as the INDY previously reported, she told parents that the school learned of the threat on Friday, May 24, not Monday, May 20.
Additional deputies were present at Cedar Ridge Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I am concerned that officers under my command failed to report these threats to their superiors,” Blackwood said in the statement. “Regardless of what action a school principal is taking in response to a threat, it is a violation of our policy for a deputy not to immediately report any threat to the safety of our students and school system personnel to his or her superior officer. We take great pride in our training and our safety protocols. This failure on our part is unconscionable.”
“We train our staff to understand the protocols and procedures around safety, but it is clear our expectations were not met this time,” Wirt said.
Asked if any disciplinary action would be taken against Hamidullah, OCS spokesman Seth Stephens replied, “We can’t discuss confidential personnel matters.”
On Thursday, school officials found more graffiti containing a shooting threat, this time in the boys’ bathroom. This threat did not mention a specific date.
The graffiti has been removed, and the Sheriff’s Office is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person responsible.
Update, June 2, 8:30 p.m.: At 7:50 p.m. Sunday, Hamidullah emailed an apology to Cedar Ridge parents.
Good evening,” she wrote. “On Monday, May 20, 2019, I was made aware of a threat in the girls bathroom. I did not inform the community nor district staff. I sincerely apologize for not notifying our Cedar Ridge community about the initial school safety threat that occurred on campus. I accept full responsibility for my inactions.
“I realize that by not informing our Cedar Ridge Community in a timely manner, I violated your trust. I take full responsibility for not communicating to our Cedar Ridge family in the proper manner. I humbly ask for your forgiveness.
“I can assure you that I do not place anything above the personal safety and general wellbeing of our students and staff.”
Update, June 4, 12:30 p.m.: On Monday, WRAL reported that OCSO had placed two deputies on leave pending an investigation into their handling of the Cedar Ridge threat. The Sheriff’s Office declined to say Tuesday whether Richmond and Faircloth were the deputies put on leave.
Thomas C. Martin is an INDY intern. Comment on this story at email@example.com. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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