Racist threat leaves some Countryside Academy parents questioning district’s response

NOW: Racist threat leaves some Countryside Academy parents questioning district’s response

BENTON TWP., Mich. -- While police investigate who wrote a racially-charged threat found in Countryside Academy’s high school this week, some families who belong to the Berrien County school district are questioning how school officials responded to the incident.

“Satin is Lord. White power is supreme. God is dead. Just because I didn’t shoot up the school Friday don’t mean I won’t do it just wait [sic]. I will light up you black motherf*****s! It’s coming.”

That was the threat found written on the wall of a boy’s bathroom stall inside Countryside Academy High School.

“This is a threat of white power on the walls in the school to harm black children, and you decided a ‘soft’ lockdown was the best?” asked Julius Reese, whose daughter is a Countryside student. “I don’t think so. I need a phone call and to pick up my daughter. Immediately.”

The threat was found on Wednesday around 1 p.m.

Just days before – on the previous Thursday – someone used Michigan’s anonymous tip line, ‘OKAY2SAY,’ to report overhearing a student at Countryside threatening to shoot up the school on Friday.

The district notified parents about the ‘OKAY2SAY’ threat last week and police investigated the anonymous tip as far as they could.

When this new threat was discovered Wednesday afternoon, the district again notified parents via email and automated phone call, explaining the district – an elementary, middle and high school in Benton Township comprised of roughly 700 students – was placed on ‘soft’ lockdown while police were again called.

But the email and phone call did not go out until Wednesday evening after 6 p.m., several hours after students returned home for the day.

Parents, like Tara Willis, had to hear about it all first from their own children.

“I was concerned about it because I’m like, ‘I haven’t heard anything from your school,’” Willis said, recalling the conversation she had with her 12-year-old daughter. “And she was like, ‘Mom, we were on a lockdown.’ And she was just upset and she couldn’t explain to me what was happening. And I didn’t know what was going on.”

Julius Reese’s 14-year-old daughter showed him a Snapchat picture of the bathroom message when she came home from school.

The next day, Thursday, Reese filmed part of a district-wide meeting school officials held in the evening to discuss the threats.

Classes had been canceled Thursday because of the threats.

In the evening meeting, lead administrator Sarah Brookshire said there was a delay in letting parents know because she was helping police with their investigation.

“I know there was some concern that I did not get to you right away, and I apologize for that,” Brookshire told parents. “There is a learning curve for me and my staff and we will work on that.”

But Reese said parents were not allowed to ask questions at Thursday’s meeting – prompting many to leave in frustration.

“I get that you’re doing an investigation and you don’t want to compromise the investigation,” he said. “But there’s got to be some more information you can give us.”

Willis said she felt the district has not properly addressed the racial component of the threat, which upsets her most.

“The wording of it. The target of it,” she said. “And I’m thinking, ‘My child is part of that target.’”

ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz reached out to Brookshire on Thursday and Friday to see if she’d like to speak about how the district has been handling this situation.

On Friday afternoon, she sent out the press release below.

The Benton Township Police Department is investigating the threat with help from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.

Willis and Reese both said their kids have attended Countryside for several years and they love it. The parents just said they hope the district can be more transparent in wake of this incident.

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