Threats of a shooting at Salem's McKay High School had police and school officials scrambling in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday.
It began around 3:30 a.m. when a newspaper deliverer spotted graffiti on a garage door at a home on the 1400 block of Horizon Ridge Drive NE, said Keizer Police Deputy Chief Jeffrey Kuhns.
The graffiti read "School shooting today @ McKay."
It quickly became more disturbing as officers found at least three more vandalized homes in the same neighborhood near Country Glen Park. The graffiti threatened "29+ dead today" and "bombs everywhere." Other tags alluded to gangs and likened the shooting to Sandy Hook.
By the time students arrived, extra security was in place at McKay, as well as McNary High School in Keizer and some other district schools, said Lillian Govus, the Salem-Keizer School District communications director.
Security was stationed at each McKay entrance. Officers stopped everyone who was walking, biking or driving onto campus.
By day's end it appeared both school and police protocols had rolled out with few hiccups, although the district's early warnings to parents prompted some to keep their children home.
The district sent robocalls on the incident and posted about the threat on Twitter and Facebook. McKay High School is about eight miles away from the graffitied homes and located in Salem, not Keizer. So school officials ended up working with both Salem and Keizer police, as well as the Marion County Sheriff's Office.
No schools were placed on lockdown, or had evacuations, and no attempt to harm students ever materialized.
“Overall, the day went well because all our kids are safe,” Govus said.
But Wednesday's incident was more visual than most threats, she said. Plus the threat came just a day after a shooting in northern California that left five people dead, adding to parents' nervousness.
That's because the California gunman had tried to break into an elementary school, firing shots into the building. Quick action by school workers, who rushed children inside and locked down the building, was credited with thwarting the gunman, who eventually became frustrated and left.
"I trust Salem-Keizer enough … to keep my kid safe, but that only extends so far," said Meghan Olson. "What about when the first shot is fired? What if it's at my son?"
Olson has two step-children in the district. The son goes to Gubser Elementary School in Keizer. Olson first heard about the threat from her stepson's mother after she received a robocall from the district.
They decided to keep him home from school Wednesday and are considering keeping him home the rest of the week. They told him it was because of a security issue at the school.
"He's so inquisitive — the first thing he (asked) is, 'Why?'" she said. "That's the million dollar question we don't have the answer to."
In 2013, the Salem-Keizer School District was ranked among top schools in the world for safety, particularly because of the K-12 Salem-Keizer Student Threat Assessment. John VanDreal, the district's director of Safety and Risk Management, authored the book “Assessing Student Threats: Implementing the Salem-Keizer System.”
Today many schools, including Chemeketa Community College, base their threat assessment programs on the Salem-Keizer model.
Govus said the district will evaluate whether to continue additional security at schools through the end of the week. Salem-Keizer students are out of school all next week for Thanksgiving.
Salem police spokesman Lt. Dave Okada said when police learn of a school shooting threat, they immediately notify the school district, then work to verify the threat, its seriousness, who made it and who reported it.
"Today's action followed that protocol," he said.
While the threats were against a Salem school, they were made in Keizer so Keizer police are leading the investigation.
Anyone having information about these incidents is asked to contact the Keizer Police Department at 503-390-3713 or by emailing Tips@keizer.org and referencing incident 17-4776.
For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 503-399-6884 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth
Or contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.
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