SPARTA, NJ – Sparta High School was locked down Wednesday due to “inappropriate and alarming” text messages that were distributed by a student, according to officials. The situation ended peacefully with a student in police custody.
A source close to the investigation said the student was removed from the high school Wednesday will not be in school on Thursday. District officials declined to comment.
Honeywell Instant Alert messages sent by the school beginning at 12:10 p.m. said the school “was in a lock down due to a student situation.” Staff and students at the school became aware of the text messages and brought them to the attention of Sparta High School Principal Janet Ferraro, according to Sparta police.
“The school came across a situation that involved inappropriate and alarming text messages,” said Sparta Police Sgt. John-Paul Beebe. He said the texts were “alarming enough for the school officials to initiate a lock down,” and added, “It was the right thing to do. The school did it by the numbers; locked it down and called the police. The whole thing was taken care of quickly. In less than half an hour the students were out of lock down.”
Ferraro declined to comment, deferring to Sparta Schools Superintendent Dennis Tobin to make any official comments. Tobin would only say the investigation is continuing.
After school was dismissed, the situation continued to unfold as additional text messages were circulated as well as a video.
At 9:34 p.m. Tobin released another Honeywell message school officials were aware of the “rumors and text messages regarding the safety of our students and staff at Sparta High School tomorrow.”
Tobin asked parents to “be advised that the school administration and Sparta Police Department have worked closely regarding this matter and do not believe there is any safety concern for our students and staff. With that being said we always are conscious about the concerns of our school community and have arranged for additional security at Sparta High School for Thursday, Dec. 10 to ensure a safe learning environment and help alleviate [any] concerns.”
The text messages, obtained by TAP into Sparta, are alleged to be between a student referred to as “Jcole” and his friend. The text exchange discusses a fight between Jcole and another targeted Sparta High School student.
The text messages discuss continuing to go after the targeted student and include some responses in German. The video, of unknown origin, depicts a fistfight outdoors between two male youths. It is alleged to depict the previously mentioned targeted student and the brother of the student taken into custody on Wednesday.
In a subsequent interview Beebe said, “Based on our investigation right now we feel that the school will be safe tomorrow. Due to the understandable concern of the community there will be a significant increase of police activity and visibility. This increased police presence began earlier this evening and will be continuing until further notice, to be sure nobody acts out or takes advantage of the situation.”
The sergeant assured the community that the police are “working closely with the school administrators” and “will continue to be in constant contact to evaluate the situation. We have been very impressed with the way the school [administrators] have handled the whole situation.”
Beebe, noting police and school staff are dealing with a juvenile, said they are limited in what they can discuss. “We understand that this can be frustrating to the community but we can say there are no weapons, no threat and no safety issue at this time.
“With four high schools and 10 elementary schools and a number of pre-schools, school safety is a top priority of the Sparta police department. Even before the incident today, there has been an increased police presence in the schools with officers walking through the buildings and on the grounds and driving through the parking lots. We don’t anticipate any problems and we won’t invite any.”
Officials have not confirmed the identity of the student taken into custody, though many in the school have identified him as a member of the junior class who recently moved to Sparta.