In the aftermath of not one, but two separate school shootings in the country in less than a week, Katy Independent School District officials on Thursday were dealing with their own gun threat.
District police said in a statement that they had identified and arrested a suspect accused of making terroristic threats aimed at two Katy ISD schools. The threat had begun to “spread through social media” on Wednesday.
The suspect, identified only as a juvenile and a Katy ISD student, is accused of posting photos featuring “a student holding a handgun, a semi-automatic gun laying on the floor and a direct threat” made toward Paetow High School and Stockdick Junior High, district officials said in a letter to parents Thursday morning.
“The juvenile in the photo is not the suspect who made the threats and was completely unaware that the images had been posted,” Paetow HS Principal Mindy Dickerson said. The images that were circulated date back to 2017, police said.
Officials said they had increased police officer presence Thursday at both schools and that the suspect – who had been charged with exhibition of a firearm and online impersonation – “will be disciplined to the fullest extent allowable by law and the Katy ISD Discipline Management Plan and Student Code of Conduct.”
The incident comes at a time when gun violence and mass shootings in the country – particularly in schools – have created major political polarization and have sent thousands of children to their early graves since 1999.
An estimated 3 million American children are exposed to shootings every year, according to Everytown For Gun Safety Fund, an independent, nonprofit organization that researches gun violence in the United States. The number does not include college students.
Last week, a 22-year-old suspect opened fire at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus, killing two people and injuring another four. And on Tuesday in Highland Ranch, Colo., two students opened fire inside a charter school in a suburb outside of Denver, not far from Columbine High School. A student who had tried to fight off the attackers died. Eight others were injured.
Katy ISD administration became aware of the threats to the schools Wednesday evening and notified district police, who immediately began an investigation that went on through the night, the district said.
Following a statement by Katy ISD police early Thursday, parents on social media were quick to send messages of thanks to officers for “taking timely action.”
“During a scary situation like this, it was good to know that you and the schools were on top of the matter immediately to keep everyone safe, and communicated what you could to the public as soon as you were able,” one person said.
Dickerson commended the police response, as well.
“Our Katy ISD Police Department has received an overwhelming amount of support via their Facebook page for being swift to gather pertinent information and make a quick arrest overnight,” she said. “However, since this incident is still an active investigation, disseminating certain information to our community is still limited, in order to not jeopardize the integrity of this investigation.”
The schools “will have extra officers on patrol, not just on campus but in our residential areas, to ensure students and families feel safe before, during and after school,” Dickerson said.
RELATED: Katy ISD boosts campus security
It is still unclear what the relationship was between the suspect and the student in the photos.
Katy ISD has spent millions on upgrading security systems and safety improvements throughout the district.
From retrofitting security cameras to installing security fencing to integrating police record management software so that it is compatible with Harris County and other agencies.
Last month, district officials asked the board of trustees to allocate $7 million from the 2017 school bond fund to provide more protection for students and staff.
Earlier this year, the district finished its fencing and gates project, which was estimated at $721,406 and was part of the bond voters approved in 2017. The project included adding six-foot security fencing around elementary schools identified by the district.
The 2017 bond included more than $16 million in security improvements, many of which will be finalized later this year and next.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.