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Middle school student charged for ‘hit list’

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Police say district allowed suspect to ride bus to school before arrest

By Meaghan Downs

A male Anderson County middle school student was arrested last Wednesday morning as he exited his school bus and charged with 32 felony counts of terroristic threatening for possessing a “hit list.”
According to School Resource Officer Joe Saunier, the “hit list” contained the names of 32 Anderson County middle school students.
Because of privacy concerns, Saunier could not release the name of the student or describe what hit list entailed other than that it listed students’ names.  
The middle school student did not have any weapons when he was taken into custody, Saunier said.
Acting police chief Chris Atkins said it was ultimately the school administration’s decision, with input from city law enforcement, to allow the suspect to ride the school bus Wednesday morning.
“Looking at the situation, our school resource officer has interacted with this family before, knew he had no access to weapons, knew there was no immediate danger,” Atkins said. “He was under surveillance on the school bus. There was no danger to anyone on that bus or at that school or we would have done things different.”
Atkins said he could not elaborate what kind of surveillance was used.
Eunice Land, mother of seventh grader Clayton and sixth grader Whitney Land, said she first heard about the hit list over the middle school’s public address system late Thursday afternoon.
“Very concerned,” Land said upon hearing the announcement. “I was really listening.”
Land said she wasn’t upset about learning about the hit list a day after the student was arrested Wednesday morning.
“If they thought it was a very serious situation, they would have notified us,” she said. “I believe in [Anderson County Middle School Principal] Ms. Fultz that much.”
Leigh Ann Isaac, mother of sixth grader Katie, is no stranger to hit lists.
While attending a Fayette County middle school, Isaac’s son became the target of a fellow student’s hit list.
“So when I heard that this morning, I thought, ‘Oh, hear we go again. It must be a middle school thing,’” Isaac said.  
Although Isaac said she thought the district did a better job than Fayette County in handling the juvenile and working with law enforcement, she wished middle school administrators had contacted all parents earlier.
Isaac said after contacting parents with students involved, the administration should have notified all parents immediately after either through the One Call system — which sends voicemail alerts en masse to parents — or by sending a letter home.  
“Any time something happened in Fayette County … there was a letter that day,” Isaac, who said via e-mail that she explicitly trusts the Anderson County school district staff to keep her daughter safe on a daily basis, said. “I think when you let a day go by, it raises suspicion about your motivation.
 “I think it just gives parents a better level of confidence that you are handling it, that there is full disclosure.”
Middle school Principal Gina Fultz said since the investigation was still ongoing, she wanted to wait until she had all of the information for all parents.
“At no time was anyone in danger or in harm’s way,” Fultz said Thursday afternoon. “I take very seriously the confidentiality and privacy of all of our students.”
Superintendent Sheila Mitchell said in an e-mail that parents were notified immediately following the conclusion of the investigation, and at the conclusion of the school day. She stated the district responded to the situation quickly, considering the large number of students involved.
“We felt it very important to notified parents of students involved by phone to ensure parents had accurate information and answer questions,” Mitchell said via e-mail. “Student safety is our No. 1 priority.”
School administrators, according to Saunier, learned of the hit list during a middle school football game on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
Fultz and sssociate middle school principal and athletic director Tammy Gilkison notified Saunier and administrators and city law enforcement worked into early morning Wednesday to identify the student responsible for the hit list.
“It speaks volumes to have the administrators and school resource officer working at midnight and beyond trying to identify the juvenile who made this list,” Atkins said Thursday morning.
According to statue, the suspect will never be allowed to return to the middle school, but Saunier said a judge could allow him to attend the district’s alternative school, be home schooled, or choose an alternative form of schooling.