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Willmar, Minn., police and school officials find no credible threats behind plot rumors

WILLMAR — Unsubstantiated rumors of potential plots against the Willmar School District have been circulating in the community this week.

School officials and Willmar police have tracked down the sources of the rumors and have found no credible threats to the school district.

The rumors have been fueled by social media and by tension caused by the school shootings last week in Newtown, Conn., Senior High Principal Paul Schmitz said.

Parents are posting on Facebook about their intentions to keep their kids home from school because of the rumors.

“We haven’t found one credible threat to anybody,” Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said Wednesday.

Kjergaard said he can understand why kids and parents are upset, but he asked them to “take a deep breath and ask yourself: Is that really true?” before spreading a rumor.

Schmitz sent a letter to parents explaining that the rumored threats had been investigated and found to be groundless.

“It is a time of high anxiety for schools all around the country,” Schmitz said in a letter to parents Wednesday. “Given the horrible news all of us have seen, it is understandable that parents and students are feeling concerned about school safety and wonder if their school is safe.”

Willmar is not alone in dealing with rumored threats and upset parents, Schmitz said in an interview Wednesday.

“Right now, it’s just hard for people to think clearly because of all the tension,” he said. “It is hard to be a 13-, 14-, or 15-year-old kid and feel safe when you see that on TV.”

Some of the rumors were traced back to a posting on Twitter that did sound threatening, Schmitz said, but the Police Department found no actual threat to the school or any person. School and law enforcement officials are working with the student who wrote the tweet and her family.

Rumors that are spreading now appear to be offshoots of the original tweet, which has been discredited, Schmitz said.

As the rumors have circulated, they have become more outrageous, Schmitz said.

In a letter to the community Wednesday, Police Chief David Wyffels said the department had traced the sources of the rumors and taken action.

“Safety is of utmost importance to both agencies and we are working diligently towards meeting that need,” he said. “The Willmar Police Department in conjunction with Willmar School authorities believe all students should be in school this week.”

In an interview, Wyffels said the rumors had “gotten so far out of hand” with the help of social media.

“We’ve spent a considerable amount of time (investigating), and there’s nothing valid to it,” Wyffels said.

Schmitz and Wyffels said they appreciated people being willing to share information, and both have talked to many concerned parents this week.

Other school districts have faced similar rumors. Schools in Red Wing were locked down all day Wednesday because of a telephone threat to a student. Superior, Wis., schools will have additional police presence at their schools to help people feel safe, after unsubstantiated rumors spread there.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340