Parents voice concerns about student safety following threat at Albion Middle School

Photos by Tom Rivers: About 200 people attended a meeting at the Albion Middle School tonight after three middle school students were arrested on Nov. 8 for allegedly planning to attack the school. Pictured form left include Michael Bonnewell, district superintendent; Roland Nenni, Albion police chief; Joe Cardone, Orleans County district attorney; Mark O’Brien, director of the Orleans County Mental Health Department; and Danielle Figura, clinic coordinator for Orleans County Department of Mental Health.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 November 2019 at 11:41 pm

‘We feel very comfortable this school system is not in danger from these three individuals.’ – District Attorney Joe Cardone

ALBION — About 200 people attended a meeting that lasted more than 2 hours at the Albion Middle School this evening. Many expressed concerns about the safety of students on campus after three middle school boys were arrested on Nov. 8 for allegedly planning to attack the school with guns and explosives.

Those students have been suspended and are home on 24-7 adult supervision without access to computers or phones. Orders of protection have also been issued for three of their classmates. The three boys can’t communicate with the other codefendants. Legally owned firearms have been seized and removed.

Albion Police Chief Roland Nenni said a great working relationship with the school district and law enforcement agencies helped the Albion Police Department make three arrests in an alleged plot to attack the school.

Their cases are being handled in Family Court by Judge Sanford Church. They also will go through the school’s disciplinary process with a superintendent’s hearing.

Joe Cardone, the district attorney, praised the Albion police, school district superintendent Michael Bonnewell and their partnership in aggressively pursuing the threat. Cardone has been the DA for about 27 years.

“This is the first time we have dealt with something of this magnitude in one of our school systems,” Cardone said.

School and law enforcement officials said a fast-working investigation showed there was a credible threat at the school. A student reported to a teacher on Monday, Nov. 4, that she received a threatening message from a student.

Chris Glogowski, Albion school resource officer, was brought in and realized there was potential for a larger threat involving more than the two students. The Albion Police Department worked with State Police and the FBI as well as the District Attorney’s Office. The district also activated a Threat Assessment Team that had been formed over the summer.

“It was all hands on deck,” Cardone said. “We all had one interest to neutralize the threat and make sure this community is safe.”

The APD made three arrests on Thursday, Nov. 8. A press conference was called on Friday, Nov. 9, at 1 p.m. to announce the arrests and share how serious the threat was towards the school.

The thwarted attack made national news.

But many at the meeting this evening said the school and police should have told the community early in the investigation that there was a plot to attack the school. Some parents said they wouldn’t have sent their kids to school had they known police were investigating such a serious threat.

Roland Nenni, the Albion police chief, said the three students were in the planning stage and weren’t going to attack soon. The school didn’t face imminent violence, Nenni said.

The three boys were planning to use guns and explosives but didn’t have access to explosives or the materials to make them, Nenni said.

To announce the case early in the investigation also would have made it harder to gather information from witnesses who could have been tipped off, the police chief said.

“We didn’t want rumors,” he said. “We didn’t want to be inhibited in getting data and information.”

Nenni said the case remains an active investigation where evidence is being gathered and analyzed.

He told the parents he understands their frustrations.

“If I was in your shoes I would want all the information and all the details,” he said. “But we didn’t want to release anything that would hamper the investigation.”

District Attorney Joe Cardone said the superintendents from the five local school districts will be working with law enforcement to develop a protocol for responding to threats against a school and students. Mark O’Brien, Mental Health director, is at right.

Because the boys are minors their names won’t be released publicly. Michael Bonnewell, the district superintendent, said laws limit what can be said publicly about the cases. He didn’t want to predict how they will be punished until their cases go through court and the district’s disciplinary process. For him to say how he expects to punish the students could result in an appeal or reduced punishment if the boys’ families can show Bonnewell made up his mind on a punishment before the disciplinary process.

Some parents in the audience wanted more details and assurance the boys in the alleged plot would not be returning to school. If they come back, several parents said they would pull their kids from school.

Mark O’Brien, director of the Orleans County Mental Health Department, said local schools in recent years have become satellite sites for mental heath counselors to work with students. He wants to work with schools to identify students who may be showing troubling behavior and get them the help they need while they are young.

Cardone and Bonnewell said the boys, as part of the state law, must be held in the least restrictive means possible as long as they meet the conditions set by the judge. Cardone said the parents of three boys have all been very cooperative.

“We feel very comfortable this school system is not in danger from these three individuals,” Cardone said.

Other parents asked that Bonnewell notify the community of the boys’ punishment, and if they will return to school. He said he will share as much information as he is allowed by law after the students go through the court and disciplinary processes.

He was asked to have metal detectors at the school, to check backpacks. Bonnewell said he would present the request to the Board of Education.

Middle school students have been addressed by Principal Brad Pritchard about the threat, and urged to share concerns about student safety. There has also been an increased police presence on campus the past two weeks.

Bonnewell also was asked why elementary or high school students haven’t been spoken to about the threat. He said he would push for that outreach. The district’s first focus was at the middle school.

Mark O’Brien, director of the Orleans County Mental Health Department, said he is grateful for the outcome, that people were arrested before an attack.

“We’re not sitting here in a vigil,” he told the crowd. “We’re not mourning anybody.”

However, he said the sense of security has been shaken for students, and many staff and teachers. He said it is normal to feel angry and anxious.

Bonnewell told the crowd that the safety of the 1,847 students remains his top priority as superintendent.

He urged parents to communicate with their children about their social media use, to be wary of unfamiliar people online and to not allow strangers into their “digital home.”

Sue Webster has worked in the elementary school’s front office for 25 years. She said the district has tightened security in recent years. She spoke near the end of the meeting, which started at 7 and ended about 9:15.

She said Bonnewell has proven he cares deeply for students.

“Tonight is breaking my heart,” Webster told the crowd. “We need to stop pointing fingers and work together as a team.”

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