The sheriff’s office sent a flyer to Davis School District officials to alert security that a former employee was threatening to kill people.
The man, according to the notice, had told a coworker that he wanted to “see what it feels like” to murder someone. And if he did, he planned to attack “women or gays.”
His comments technically weren’t criminal, investigators said, so the sheriff’s office couldn’t charge him with anything. But they worried he might come back to the district — where he was recently put on leave for safety concerns — and make good on his talk. They wanted schools to be aware.
The flyer was meant to stay among top school district officials and a handful of security guards. But somehow this week it got out. Someone had shared it. On social media. By text. Printed out and floating around the hallways. What was supposed to be private was now posted everywhere.
And by Wednesday morning, students were in a panic.
“It wasn’t intended to go out in the way that it did,” said Elizabeth Sollis, spokeswoman for the Davis County Sheriff’s Office. “It was an accident. But it created a lot of fear.”
These types of flyers — prepared by the sheriff’s office and sent to school administrators to be on the lookout for possible school shooters or suspects— go out “all the time,” Sollis said. They’re mostly just alerts, often nothing too serious, meant to be informative.
And students and teachers and parents usually don’t find out about them.
There’s a purpose for that secrecy, Sollis said. In this case, for instance, the man was never charged — The Salt Lake Tribune is not naming him because he was not charged — and the sheriff’s office isn’t tracking him, although the office has reported him to the FBI.
Sollis stands by the practice of letting schools know about potential threats, but she said that spreading the information too widely can cause worry. Students are afraid the individual might come to school, might attack them.
So when should kids know about a potentially dangerous individual? Is there a risk in not letting students know? And should police even be alerting the district when there are not charges? Or does that just create bias?
Those questions aren’t so easy to answer.
When the district fired the man for safety concerns, said Christopher Williams, spokesman for Davis School District, administrators also reported him to law enforcement to conduct an investigation. Officers talked to him and confirmed the threats, Sollis said.
“Unfortunately, this information wasn’t kept confidential. It should have been, and we apologize for that,” Williams said in an email.
Even though he was never charged, the employee also hasn’t been hired back by the school district, Williams said.
“The district responded the way it did in order to provide a safe environment for its employees and students,” the spokesman added. “There’s a lot of confidential information that we share with administrators.”
Sollis said details are shared with the public if there is a more active threat.
“If there was concern for the public, we would have shared that broadly.”
The sheriff’s office sat down with the man about three weeks ago. Investigators decided he was someone to keep an eye on, but not a high-level risk.
“People can say things all day long. It’s the First Amendment,” Sollis said. “But it’s a closed investigation.”
The sheriff’s office said in a separate news release that it has looked into solutions to make sure flyers sent out in the future aren’t shared like this one.