Threats of violence mark end of school year

Rumors fly about threats at First Coast High

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Concerns are growing among parents of First Coast High School students amid rumors that someone is planning a shooting on campus. Social media posts indicate that there will be a gang-initiation shooting at the school this week.

"We are going to take that very seriously whether it is real or not because it is important that all of our children are safe. So we are going to react to that as if there is validity, even though we don't know, so that we can be proactive," school board member Paula D. Wright said. 

Wright, who represents the Northside district that includes First Coast High, said the district always enhances security in the last week of school. She said they are taking the threats very seriously, but does not believe that there is any substance to them. She said she can ensure the safety of every single student on campus.

Last week, Duval County Superintendent Nicholai Vitti sent robo-calls to parents' phones that there would be additional police presence and possible searches and other security measures.

"During the remaining two weeks of school, your child may notice increases in security presence on and near campuses. Additional district personnel and volunteers have been assigned to schools. Backpack restrictions may apply, and an increase of random searches. We ask that you also support these efforts at home by monitoring your child's friends, social media accounts and behavior.

"Please understand that these efforts are not to alarm or inconvenience you, but to minimize any threat or risk of community violence on our campuses. Please know that I consider the safety of our children equivalent to how I would consider it for my own four children, who attend Duval County Public Schools."

From outside First Coast High School, there was no visible indication of increased police presence at the school.

Rebecca, a mother of a student at the school, who asked that her last name not be used, kept her daughter home from First Coast on Monday because of the threats.

She said she will allow her daughter to go in and take a test on Tuesday, but Rebecca plans to sit in the classroom during the test, then take her daughter back home.

"I'm bringing her up here for a test. I am going to sit in class with her for that test, and when she is done I am leaving with her. And we won't be back up here, and we may not be back here next year," Rebecca said. "if something does happen, at least I can be here to protect her."

Some students at the school have said that they were aware of the threats but weren't worried about their safety.

"I feel safe going to my school, because we are mostly in class or we are with the teachers that we trust," junior Tamia Brown said. 

The high school has been on edge over the past several weeks after the shooting deaths of two of its students.

On April 25, someone shot and killed Johnnel Johnson and injured a second person at an after-prom party at a home in Arlington. On May 15, Jacquon Reeves was shot and killed and another teenager was injured at a gathering at Sheffield Park on the Northside. Both were First Coast High School football players, and police have not made arrests or named suspects in either case.

A meeting is being held on the Northside Monday night about teen violence and gangs. Parents, police and school board members are expected to attend.