WARRENSVILLE — The Ashe County Sheriff's Office is closing in on the suspected writer of a threat found in the boys bathroom at Ashe County Middle School, according to Sheriff B. Phil Howell. The threat, which read, "I will strike the school in three days,” was found in the bathroom around 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, according to school officials.
Another threat was found Thursday, Feb. 7, and Howell said the ACSO is limiting the release of information to help the investigation go smoothly.
ACMS Principal Dustin Farmer was not available for comment at the time of this update.
Ashe Post & Times will continue to provide updates as they are made available.
Update filed 7:50 p.m. Feb. 7
According to a press release from the Ashe County Sheriff's Office, an additional threatening piece of graffiti was discovered today at Ashe County Middle School. This discovery comes just three days after "I will strike the school in three days,” was found in a boys bathroom at the middle school, according to school officials.
In an effort not to impede the ACSO's investigation, the sheriff's office has not released any additional information to the public, according to the release.
The release urged parents and students with any tips or information on the threats to contact (336) 846-5600 and request Detective Will Hicks.
Ashe Post & Times will continue to post updates as they are made available.
Update filed 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7
The Ashe County Sheriff's Office continued its investigation into a written threat on the boys bathroom wall at Ashe County Middle School Thursday, Feb. 7. The threat, which read, "I will strike the school in three days,” was found in the bathroom around 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, according to school officials.
ACSO Detective Will Hicks is leading the investigation, according to Ashe County Sheriff B. Phil Howell.
"He is coordinating it with everyone, and he is actually interviewing the kids and parents," Howell said.
Howell has been at the middle school during the morning carpool time for the last two days.
"It's nice to actually see the kids and interact with them, see the parents and see if they want to talk," Howell said. "You could definitely tell that it's lighter on the attendance than it has been."
Ashe County Schools are closed due to a flu outbreak Friday, Feb. 8, and Howell said the ACSO will not be publicizing plans for securing the middle school Feb. 11-15.
"We obviously did this for the protection of the kids, but if someone is serious in doing it, we don't want them to know what we're preparing," Howell said. "After the initial start of the investigation, we're not going to be as public with what we're doing."
Middle school principal Dustin Farmer said the investigation was ongoing as of Thursday afternoon, and more students were interviewed throughout the school day. Farmer could not provide any additional information due to the ongoing investigation.
Howell added that the ACSO is going to continue to work the investigation the best it can with the information provided.
"Those guys are working," Howell said. "They're collecting tips and going through any information anyone gives the sheriff's office."
Update filed 5 p.m. Feb. 6
The Ashe County Sheriff's Office is continuing its investigation into a threat written on the wall of a boys' bathroom at Ashe County Middle School. The threat, which read, "I will strike the school in three days,” was found in the bathroom around 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, according to school officials.
"We have had detectives at the school all day (Feb. 6) interviewing kids," Ashe County Sheriff B. Phil Howell said.
Howell greeted parents and students at ACMS this morning, and added that he will continue that practice throughout the rest of the week. ACSO had six additional deputies at the middle school Wednesday, Feb. 6. Highway Patrol was also on campus throughout the day, according to Howell.
After an initial investigation by ACMS, deputies visited homes to conduct interviews the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 5, and summoned several students and parents to the sheriff's office for interviews. Howell said interviews took place from approximately 10:30 p.m. until midnight.
"Right now, I do know that suspects are changing," Howell said. "With the nature and the vagueness of the threat, it's extremely hard for us to track who has done this, because it is in a bathroom."
Howell added that the school does not know when the threat was written.
"We're doing the best with what we have," Howell said.
After being notified of the threat Tuesday evening, many parents chose not to send their students to school, according to ACMS Principal Dustin Farmer. Only about 145 students showed up for school Wednesday, Feb. 6. More than 470 students are enrolled at the middle school, Farmer said.
Howell said he will speak on the matter on local radio at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 7.
The original article as written Tuesday, Feb. 5 is below:
Ashe County Schools and the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office are investigating a threat written on a wall of the boys’ bathroom at Ashe County Middle School, according to Ashe County Superintendent Phyllis Yates.
The threat, saying “I will strike the school in three days,” was found in the bathroom around 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, according to ACMS Principal Dustin Farmer. Since then, Farmer has worked with Student Resource Officer Justin Manganelli and the ACSO conducting an investigation including handwriting analysis of potential students, according to Farmer.
“We took a picture of it, sent it out to our staff, who have looked at that and compared it to the writing samples of students who went in that bathroom at any point in time,” Farmer said. “We had a list of boys who went in and out of the restroom. We’ve tried to do as best we can, because we’re not professionals in handwriting analysis.”
Farmer, who has been the ACMS principal for four years, said this is the most threatening instance in his time at the school. After conducting the analysis, Farmer, Manganelli and Assistant Principal Gordon Prince have questioned students on the matter. Farmer said the suspect pool was down to less than 10 students as of presstime.
“We’re hoping to wind this up tomorrow (Feb. 6),” Farmer said. “If not, we’ll definitely be in contact with the sheriff’s office and the superintendent to make sure that we proceed in the way that they advise.”
Ashe County Sheriff B. Phil Howell said the ACSO will be “beefing up patrol” at the middle school. He added that the sheriff’s office is taking the matter very seriously.
Yates said, while the writing included no picture or mention of guns, it is important to treat these instances seriously.
“We take anything like this extremely serious,” Yates said. “Safety is always our No. 1 priority. We’re going to make sure our students are safe.”
Additional reporting by Ian Taylor.