Gwinnett County Public Schools police have arrested five GCPS students in connection with threats made against schools on social media — and officers are investigating six more cases, district officials announced on Thursday.

The arrests, which school system officials are only saying were middle and high school students under the age of 17, come amid a rise in reports of threats being made against GCPS schools in the last week and a half. GCPS Police Chief Tony Lockhart announced the arrests during a press conference at Discovery High School, which was one of the schools that a threat was made against.

“(These are) not five individuals specifically, for example, Discovery High School,” Lockhart said. “(These were) different schools throughout the county.”

Lockhart said there have been a total of 13 reports of threats made against schools in the district in the last couple of weeks. GCPS police are working with the Gwinnett County Police Department’s Intelligence Unit to look into the threats, as well as with the Gwinnett District Attorney’s Office, which will prosecute the cases in Juvenile Court.

GCPS spokesman Bernard Watson said threats have been made against schools in the district since the beginning of the school year, but the increased interest in the threats now has to do with the uptick in reports.

“In the last seven to 10 days, we’ve seen a lot of them,” Watson said. “They happen frequently, but in the last seven to 10 days, there has been an increase.”

District officials are highlighting the arrests and noting that six more cases remain under investigation to highlight the fact that there are consequences for making threats against schools.

Of the five arrests that were made, Lockhart said they were determined to be hoaxes. Those students will still face serious charges.

“Terroristic threats, dissemination of information to a terroristic threat (are some of the charges they could face), and that could range from a misdemeanor to a felony,” he said.

In addition to the six threats that remain under investigation, there were two other threats made on social media that officials determined were actually made against schools in other states that have names similar to GCPS schools, such as a Hull Middle School in Massachusetts.

Discovery High School Principal Marci Sledge said a threat was made against her school on social media late Monday night. She emailed a letter to parents at 6:15 a.m. on Tuesday to let them know about the threat, and sent a follow up email later in the day to provide an update on the investigation into the threat.

“We had multiple students report (the threat) to teachers, and I had several parents reach out to me, so our students and teachers alerted us very quickly, which was very helpful,” Sledge. “We did not keep students out of school.”

Lockhart said the threat made against Discovery High School was made by a student at the school.

Sledge said Discovery officials were relieved that it was not a legitimate threat of violence, but she said it did cause concern. There are 2,750 students enrolled at Discovery, which also has 263 staff members, including about 185 teachers.

“It is very concerning because we do have to take every threat seriously,” Sledge said. “We can do some precursory investigation on our own, just trying to determine whether we can link it to specifically to a student, but honestly we leave the investigation to the experts, who certainly have far more resources and know how about how to investigate those specific threats.

“And, our role is just to make sure that we are giving them as much information as we can, communicating what we can to our parents and to our students and trying to continue forward if at all possible.”

Lockhart said the district’s police also take all of the threats being made against GCPS institutions seriously.

“A lot of the students, or the individuals that’s making the threat, they see that there’s been a threat at Mill Creek and the disruption that it’s caused, so ‘let’s play this prank and make a threat at another school,’ “ he said. “But, of course, whenever the threat comes in, we consider it valid and give it all of the attention that we have to to ensure that it is not a valid threat and then to make sure that the students at the school are safe.”

Return to www.gwinnettdailypost.com for updates.

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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