Police were notified Thursday, Nov. 19th, at 11:30 pm of a threat to shoot Tacoma’s School of the Arts (SOTA) students. The student who received the notification was in class when she was threatened through Facebook. The threat was directed towards her and SOTA students in general, as no specific names were mentioned in the post. As a result, school and police officials kept students on lockdown. Tacoma’s School of Art’s students are instructed in two classrooms that are located on UW Tacoma grounds at the corner of 21st & Pacific. These two buildings were shut down the following day (Friday, Nov. 20th). The doors of SOTA were locked and access to the area was monitored.
According to Tacoma Public Schools spokesman, Dan Vopel, the person who posted the online threat was a former SOTA student. The student, a young male, was upset about anonymous comments posted on the cellphone app, After School, which were directed at his girlfriend.
SOTA teacher, Paul Eliot, posted on Facebook further explaining the cellphone apps and what they are used for: “Tuesday morning some kid showed me an app on their phone called ‘After School’ which supposedly verifies what high school you go to via Facebook… anyone can post ANONYMOUSLY anything they want. People have use[d] the technology to say the meanest, most threatening, most racist things about their communities and peers.”
According to Eliot, on Friday, Nov. 20th, over 300 SOTA and the Science and Math Institute (SAMI) students were using After School.
“300 [students were using the app] at each of our small schools, where the other high schools in Tacoma, much bigger, have at most 70 total users,” says Eliot.
Police officials are currently investigating the threat made Thursday night. No names are being released, nor is the original Facebook post with the exact wording being publicized.
UWT Director of External Relations, Michael Wark says, “When we were notified of the threat, the student was taking a class. SOTA [students] take classes all across downtown; they have buildings all through the finance district area, Broadway, up the hill from [UW Tacoma]. We have always been proud of that partnership with SOTA and having the students on campus.”
The former SOTA student sent the threat to one student, and threatened to harm other students as well. Wark said that the matter caused great concern due to the fact that the former student could possibly follow through with the threat.
The SOTA students were immediately relocated to classrooms in the Tacoma district for their mentorship day—an educational event where students meet with teacher mentors and work on projects. “We needed to inform the campus to be aware and on the lookout,” says Wark.
“The students in those classrooms were moved to a different classroom for the safety of all the students,” says Wark.
Additional patrols of campus safety officers, Tacoma school patrol officers and Tacoma police were placed on the UWT campus. “We went on high alert,” says Wark.
A UW Alert was sent to UWT students providing vague information about the matter: “Campus Safety and Security received notice of a threat of violence against a Tacoma School of the Arts student who attends classes held on our campus.”
In addition to the two sentences provided about the situation, Campus Security said some students might experience stress due to the “heightened security,” so they recommended seeking out the Student Counseling Center in MAT 354. Free, confidential sessions are available to all registered UWT students.
If you are experiencing distress due to the recent threat, call the counseling center at (253) 692-4522 to book an appointment. Faculty and staff can consult with the University of Washington CareLink at (866) 598-3978.