Modified Lockdowns Lifted After ‘Threatening Posts’ at Chehalis, Centralia Schools on Back-to-Back Days

Posts Come One Week After ‘Prank Call’ Raises Alarm at Morton Elementary School 


Schools in the Chehalis School District were in a modified lockdown for several hours Tuesday morning after a “threatening post” was sent to a W.F. West High School student on social media.

“This morning, we became aware of a possible threat reported by a student. We placed our schools on a modified lockdown out of an abundance of caution,” Chehalis School District Security and Safety Officer Todd Thornburg said in a written statement to The Chronicle on Tuesday.

“The Chehalis (Police Department) responded, and we worked with them to evaluate the threat and ultimately decided to lift the modified lockdown,” Thornburg said. “We take every threat very seriously and work closely with the Chehalis Police Department.”

The lockdown came a day after a social media post including a picture of “a student who appeared to be holding a rifle-like gun” with the caption “dont come to school tmr” circulated among students at neighboring Centralia High School.

“Originally it went out to a small group and somehow that got screenshotted and was sent out to the school,” Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Field Operations Bureau Chief Dustin Breen told The Chronicle Wednesday.

Once he found out the post reached a larger audience than he and the 14-year-old girl who took the photo intended, the 17-year-old boy pictured in the post self-reported the incident to officials at Centralia High School, according to Breen.

Centralia High School officials contacted the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office at approximately 10 a.m. on Monday and “took some basic precautions while in talks with law enforcement to ensure the safety of students and staff, including ensuring all outside doors were locked,” according to the school district.

Law enforcement met with high school officials and contacted the 17-year-old and the 14-year-old that same day.

Detectives determined that the gun pictured in the post was a pellet gun and confirmed the 17-year-old did not have access to firearms, according to Breen.

Both the 17-year-old and the 14-year-old have been removed from school for the duration of the term, Centralia High School announced Monday.

“There is no indication that the threat was credible at any time before, during or after the social media post. There is no indication that there is a credible threat moving forward,” Centralia High School Principal Josue Lowe wrote in a letter to students and families on Monday. “There is an indication that the post was circulated as a prank or hoax but we are continuing our investigation to ensure student safety into the future,” wrote Lowe.

As of Wednesday morning, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office was in the process of turning over its investigation materials to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office for review, according to Breen.

“Please take this opportunity to talk as a family about the appropriate use of social media platforms and the consequences that may arise from using them for pranks, hoaxes, etc.,” wrote Lowe.

The post that was sent to the W.F. West student via Snapchat on Tuesday “is similar in nature to the one that was sent to a neighboring school district earlier this week,” wrote the Chehalis School District in a message to students and families.

“The post does not mention any student, W.F. West, or any Chehalis schools. But, out of an abundance of caution, our schools are on modified lockdown,” the district stated.

Classes remained in session but the exterior doors were locked with a monitored traffic flow, according to the district.

School officials contacted the Chehalis Police Department just after 9:25 a.m. on Tuesday.

The lockdown was lifted by early Tuesday afternoon.

All information regarding the post that was sent to the W.F. West student came from a third party and the department is not conducting a followup investigation at this time, according to a spokesperson at the Chehalis Police Department.

The threatening posts come two weeks after an 18-year-old gunman killed 21 people, including 19 children, in an attack on an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24. The shooter had reportedly posted concerning messages and a photo of the gun in group chats and one-on-one messages on social media prior to the shooting, according to ABC News.

One week after the attack, on May 31, the Morton Police Department responded to what was later determined to be a prank call to Arbor Health Morton Hospital claiming a child had been shot at Morton Elementary School and needed an ambulance.

“Please speak to your kids and talk to them tonight and let them know that this kind of stuff is unacceptable and isn’t funny in the least bit,” Morton Police Chief Roger Morningstar said in a video message to the Morton community posted to the police department’s Facebook page on May 31.

The Morton Police Department had pulled together its resources to have a strong presence at the three surrounding school districts that week in light of the shooting in Texas, according to Morningstar.

“With everything that’s happened and all the resources we pulled together today so we could have a really dense, positive presence at all the school districts on the east end, the last thing we need is to do is tie up those resources chasing ghosts for someone who thinks it’s funny to, again, make a prank call stating someone is shot and needs an ambulance right now,” Morningstar said.

He added that students and families could expect to see a more visible police presence at East County schools going forward and encouraged anyone with questions or concerns to contact the Morton Police Department at 360-496-6663. 

The incident at Morton Elementary School remains under investigation, according to the Morton Police Department.