Bye: LHHS followed training when dealing with student’s threat of violence
By SHELLY WILKISON
Less than a week after a Liberty Hill High School student threatened to harm others at school, Principal Mario Bye says school staff followed their training and emergency procedures.
“We had a notification that morning that a kid had made some kind of a threat and told his friends, ‘don’t come to school,’” Bye told The Independent this week. “That was about the extent of it. There weren’t any details or anything about what was going to happen.”
Bye said the student, who was not identified to the newspaper because he is a juvenile, rode the bus to school Friday morning. He was met by a school counselor at the bus dropoff location at the back entrance to the high school.
“As soon as he came off the bus, they were able to ask him to come to the office. He came in without question. He was in a conference room by 7:33 (a.m.),” Bye said, adding that the bus arrived on campus at 7:30 a.m. “In a sense, it was kind of done by then (7:33).”
Bye, who has been on the job in Liberty Hill since this summer, said he arrived to work Friday at the same time the student was being escorted by the counselor into the office.
“I talked to the student with one of the police officers,” Bye said.
Sgt. Robert Fox of the Liberty Hill Police Department was the first officer on scene after a 9-1-1 call was made. While he did not accompany the counselor to the bus stop to meet the student, Fox was present in the office when the student was brought in and conducted a search to determine the student had no weapons. Fox stayed on scene until Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies arrived shortly after.
Because Liberty Hill High School is not in the city limits, the Sheriff’s Office has jurisdiction there.
“We checked him (the student) out and determined that he had said some things that were not wise to say,” Bye said. “The detectives carried out their investigation and we are working with them to determine what the appropriate discipline going forward is.”
On Tuesday, Bye said he was awaiting news from the sheriff’s office regarding any criminal charges that may be filed against the student. In the meantime, he said the student is not at school.
“He is not coming back to school at this time,” Bye said. “What happens with that is going to depend on the charge and the discipline we carry out. For the foreseeable future, he is not going to be back here.”
Bye explained that the threat “was said to his friends, to a table of friends. They didn’t name the high school or name any teachers. He just said it to some of his friends, and they told some friends, and one of them reported it to a parent. The one that heard it went home and told a family member and they made the report.”
Bye, who has previous experience with similar incidents at the high school where he served as Associate Principal in Katy ISD, said all threats are taken seriously.
“You have to get your own personal feelings out of the way and say, ‘okay if this is real what do I do.’” he said.
Bye said several students who are friends of the suspect were questioned Friday, but authorities determined that he was acting alone. He said no one else was involved in making the threat.
“We followed every lead we had, we didn’t find anything. No other students were involved, despite any rumors people might have heard. No other students were making any threats, making any plans.”
He said that while he couldn’t know the student’s actual intent, “there were no weapons, and he had no means of carrying out anything. So in the long run, no one was truly in danger. We were stressed out, we were shocked and scared, but there was no true danger,” he said
He said he couldn’t speak to allegations that the threat was made via text messaging. He said no one shared any threatening text messages with him.
Bye said the investigation showed there “was no bullying involved in this situation. The student was actually shocked and scared” during the interview process with law enforcement and school officials.
The student told authorities he wanted to “mess with some of his friends,” Bye said.
The Principal said the student’s parents were not called about the investigation until after the student was arrested and removed from the campus. He said that was a law enforcement decision.
“I have had cases in other schools I’ve worked at where they have been contacted and they get up and actually interfered with police,” Bye said, adding that he waited to call the parents until the officers were ready. A parent then met officers at the school.
Bye said as the student was being taken to the patrol unit, he walked out with them.
“I still feel like even though he’s in some trouble, I’ve got a responsibility as an educator,” he said. “His parents weren’t there, so in effect I was the closest thing to a parent.”
Bye said he patted the student on the back as he got into the vehicle and told him, “these guys work with kids, so do what they say, they’re going to take care of you.
“I tried to give him some reassurance so that he would be cooperative and they would have a smooth experience there,” he said.
Bye said he made an announcement on the school’s public address system after the student was arrested and in the custody of sheriff’s officers off campus. He said the student was never out of custody of police once detained in the office.
“I told them that everything was under control, and we would follow a normal day. I wanted them to hear my voice, and tried to be out in the halls as much as I could between classes,” Bye said.
He said there were many upset parents who came to the school to pick up their students or find out more about what was happening.
“Facebook, social media sped up a lot of the rumors,” he said.
The Principal sent an email to parents Friday after the situation was contained. While the message was that the school was safe, many were critical that the news came in the form of an email.
Bye said he preferred some type of written communication as opposed to parents having to listen through dated voice mail messages. He said using text messages to communicate during emergencies at school might be the best and fastest form of communication in the future.
He said if the situation had escalated in some way and the safety of the students had required a lock down, more communication with parents would have been protocol.
Prepared for the worst
“We hope for the best and plan for the worst. We take all threats seriously as if it could happen,” he added.
Bye said he is experienced when it comes to dealing with violence at school. On multiple occasions he worked with local law enforcement officers in Katy, as well as Drug Enforcement Agency officers and the FBI.
He spoke about incidents at his previous school of an on-campus suicide, finding explosive devices and weapons.
“Can anyone ever be prepared for the worst?” he asked in response to a question as to whether Liberty Hill High School is prepared for the worst.
“That’s a tough one. I’ve been through a lot more of these (incidents) than people around here have,” he said. “I’ve got the experience under my belt, and that’s the best teacher.”
Bye said after officers took the student from campus, he met with some staff members to discuss how things were handled.
“We have debriefed some with some people, and I talked to the staff a little bit, had some sit-down conversations with some in the office that dealt directly with it. We’ve talked about what we did well and what we need to improve on,” he said. “That’s an important part of the process. You can never have too much training on this.”
Bye said high school staff performed well under the pressure Friday and followed their training, and the procedures that were put in place before he was hired.
“What I’ve witnessed around here is the APs (assistant principals), counselors, they did a good job thinking on their feet. They did the right things.”
He said the most effective thing a school has when dealing with threats of violence is the relationship employees have with students.
“That’s really the best defense in running the school is being connected with all the kids, making sure they understand they can come talk to you,” he said.
Bye said the student involved in Friday’s incident had a good rapport with the counselor who met him at the bus. When he was asked to accompany the counselor to the office, he did not refuse and went along quietly.
He encouraged students to notify an adult immediately if they hear of threats of violence. He said students shouldn’t waste valuable time wondering whether a threat might be serious before reporting it.
Bye said the last count he received at the end of the day Friday showed 456 students out of 1,109 left school that day.
On Monday, students returned to school — a day that was uneventful compared to Friday.
“They’re still talking a little, but we went right back to class. Yesterday was very smooth.
“I want people to trust us,” he said. “My experience is this, that’s why the Board (of trustees) hired me. I will keep this place safe.”