Newcomerstown Schools were briefly placed on a "yellow door lockdown" Thursday afternoon due to a possible threat, as many schools in the region experienced similar issues.
The school district worked with local law enforcement to investigate the possible threat and the lockdown was lifted after officials determined there was no credible threat.
A release by the Newcomerstown Board of Education said, "The district is operating as normal and all students are safe and classes are continuing as normal. No changes have been made to the daily schedule.
Tuscarawas County law enforcement officials investigated threats of violence left on the walls of girls’ restrooms at New Philadelphia High School and Tuscarawas Valley High School in Zoarville on Wednesday — part of a wave of threats made at schools throughout Ohio in the past two days.
At New Philadelphia, high school officials were made aware "of a scribbling on the interior of a bathroom stall," New Philadelphia Police Capt. Shawn Nelson said. School officials then contacted the police.
The high school and Welty Middle School were placed on "yellow door lockdown" as a precaution.
Nelson said police have assessed the situation and believe the threat to students is minimal or non-existent. It was likely either a prank or vandalism.
However, police chose to err on the side of caution, he said. A technician from the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation was called in to collect evidence, including photographs and any possible DNA to identify the person who wrote on the wall.
Superintendent David Brand said that district officials meet continually to discuss security. "We believe we have a great plan and we believe we can get better."
After school was dismissed Wednesday, school officials met with police to develop a plan for the rest of the week to increase the presence of law enforcement at New Philadelphia schools.
Nelson noted that a few parents created a situation during the lockdown that did more harm than good when they tried to take their children out of school. He asked for their cooperation.
As word of the lockdown spread on social media, parents — many of whom were anxious, frightened and angry — headed to the school. In some instances, they were able to talk to their children, who were gathered by the windows in a one high school classroom.
Melissa Brown, the parent of two middle school students and one high school student, had been outside the building for about an hour.
"It’s nerve-wracking," she said. "I told my husband yesterday, I’m nervous to send our kids to school anymore. It’s just too scary, because you never know.
"There’s no metal detectors at these doors. There’s one police officer who goes around to all the schools. They don’t have enough security at New Philadelphia Schools, and they need some more security and then need some metal detectors. These teachers aren’t safe either. These poor teachers do a really good job, and they’re worried for themselves too. They need to give the students and the teachers more security, that’s for sure."
At Tuscarawas Valley High School, two students found a message on a wall in the girls’ restroom at 11:30 a.m. that threatened a shooting at 2:30 p.m., according to Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Detective Jeff Moore. The students notified school officials, who in turn called the sheriff’s office.
"At this time, it’s still being investigated," Moore said.
Law enforcement is trying to determine if the New Philadelphia and Tuscarawas Valley threats are linked, because both were so similar.
The high school was not under lockdown. Instead, school officials gathered all the students in the gymnasium for what Superintendent Mark Murphy called "a family meeting."
"We had a very candid conversation with them on the crisis facing public schools today and how we need their assistance," he said. "If they see something unusual or notice something out of the ordinary, they need to report it. That’s what happened today."
Murphy said his students are very cognizant of what’s happening in the country.
"I am thankful they are aware," he said. "We talked about the training our teachers and staff have gone through, the drills we have conducted and what they would need to do in such a situation."
He said he emphasized "situational awareness" and how they should be aware of what’s going on around them, not just at school but whenever they are out in public.
"For me personally, it’s a sad reality," Murphy said. "But our main message to our young people was a message of hope. We’re here to help them and support them under the stress they’re feeling." He urged them to never feel isolated, alone, desperate or afraid.
Jon Baker is a staff writer for The Times-Reporter.