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UPDATE: Principal Told Mahwah Parents About School Threat In October

Ramapo Ridge Middle School
Ramapo Ridge Middle School Photo Credit: COURTESY: Mahwah BOE

MAHWAH, N.J. -- ( UPDATE ) MAHWAH, N.J. -- Contrary to initial belief, some Mahwah parents were, in fact, told that a threat had been made to a township middle school last October.

Enraged parents said that they were told for the first time Friday night that a 13-year-old Ramapo Ridge Middle School student had threatened to "shoot up" the school next Friday.

However, Daily Voice has obtained a copy of an Oct. 28 email sent to parents from Ramapo Ridge Principal Daniel Vander Molen:

Dear Ramapo Ridge Families,

I have received some inquiries about a matter that we have already addressed. There is a rumor circulating that alleged that a student made a threat against our school. We received notification of this rumor on Thursday afternoon and notified the Mahwah Police Department promptly. This allegation was ultimately found to be unconfirmed.

We conducted our own internal investigation and the rumors are unsubstantiated. We encourage all students to speak to a trusted adult if they ever hear of any concerning information regarding the safety of themselves or others.

Please know that all appropriate measures have been taken to ensure the safety of all Ramapo Ridge students.

Sincerely,

Daniel Vander Molen

Principal Ramapo Ridge Middle School

Sources told Daily Voice on Saturday that the threat was a rumor and has continued to be.

Several students were brought in with their parents to try and determine what the boy may have said to whom, they said.

"Everybody denied hearing him say it," one source said. "Most of them said they heard it from someone else. No child spoken to said that they heard him say it face-to-face."

The eighth-grader also was found to have no access to weapons.

He also denied having made a threat to anyone.

He did have other issues, however, that counselors were dealing with, sources told Daily Voice.

School officials had received calls from anxious parents after the original email from Vander Molen.

This escalated after the Parkland massacre earlier this week, sources said.

As word began to spread among the middle schoolers, Schools Supt. C. Lauren Schoen emailed parents Friday night.

The rumor had been thoroughly investigated, the boy was "removed" from school and there will be a massive police presence at Ramapo Ridge next Friday, Schoen wrote.

The timing -- on a Friday night before a four-day school weekend -- angered parents.

Schoen apologized to parents Saturday afternoon, but she also said it was necessary to send the message when she did.

"It is clear from the emails received that the communication sent out on Friday evening did not meet its intended purpose and for that we sincerely apologize," the superintendent wrote.

SEE: Mahwah Schools Chief Apologizes For Timing Of Shooting Threat Notice

Mayor Bill Laforet issued his own statement on Saturday, saying that he's going to demand that police notify him and the Township Council of "any and all threats" to township schools and assign a uniformed, armed patrol officer at each school every day.

"This will result in additional police overtime costs being incurred, but so be it."

Laforet said he plans to seek a shared-services agreement to help cover the costs -- although either way that money still comes from township taxpayers.

Sources told Daily Voice that the boy was removed not so much because of the rumor but because he had other behavioral issues.

Arrangements were made for him to have schooling outside of Ramapo Ridge, they said.

The boy cannot be identified because of his age, under New Jersey's juvenile justice statutes.

This protects a child from stigma that could worsen things -- and instead allows for the kind of close attention that can produce a law-abiding adult once he or she matures.

The laws bind authorities of any kind -- be it schools, police, courts or any other -- from disclosing the identity of a juvenile in trouble unless he or she has been "waived up" to adult status because of their age and the severity of the crime.

******

MAHWAH, N.J. -- Furious Mahwah parents demanded answers after receiving word for the first time late Friday that a young student had threatened several months ago to "shoot up" the township middle school next week.

Dozens of township parents who took to Facebook Friday night wondered if they'd ever have been told if the Parkland massacre hadn't occurred earlier this week.

"I’m now officially terrified to send my 6 year old to school," a mother wrote.

Several township parents said they're keeping their kids home from school next Friday -- and possibly not for the entire week. That includes those with high schoolers.

The boy was "removed" from Ramapo Ridge Middle School for the rest of the school year, police met with him and his parents several times and "a series of interventions were put into place," Supt. C. Lauren Schoen wrote in the email to parents, co-signed by township Police Chief James N. Batelli.

"At the end of the school day, on February 22, the school will be secured, and on February 23, the Mahwah Police Department will have officers present in the school throughout the entire school day," Schoen wrote. "Additional policing measures will also be in place, but will remain confidential, in an effort to not compromise these strategic security procedures.

"There will continue to be a heightened presence of Mahwah Police officers throughout the school district as we work to maintain a safe learning environment for students, parents, staff, and faculty."

Neither Schoen nor Batelli could immediately be reached for comment Friday night. Daily Voice emailed both.

Parents welcomed the additional security but were enraged by the superintendent's comment that "communication with parents about potential safety issues" is "essential" to the district's commitment to safety.

"Why wait until a Friday night at 8pm to send this email during a 4 day weekend?!?" added Melissa La Torre. "How convenient to then be able to avoid all the calls from irate parents.

"This should have been information that was relayed when it happened not months later," La Torre said.

A worker at the school said she found out about it the same time the parents did.

"Seems parents were getting word about it from kids talking at school and they had to send the emaill," Dawn Smith Marino wrote.

"My 6th grader came home today and said she doesn’t want to go to school next Friday," wrote Sana Sohail Amanat. "When I asked her why, she said everyone in school is saying that this boy will shoot up the school next Friday. I immediately called the school (around 3pm) and told them exactly what my daughter said. They said they would look into the matter.

"It’s so upsetting," Amanat added. "No child should be afraid to go to school."

"This email gives 'just enough' information to scare the life out of me," Victoria Zampese Ackerson wrote, "but doesn't 'give enough' information to calm my fears."

"Maybe if this info was shared when it first happened there would be time for people to ask questions and deal with it more calmly," added Christine Sariyan Decker. "But to leave this to the week before, all that does is cause panic."

Parents also noted that the Florida killer had been removed from school, as well.

Mother Cherly Roman said her son "told me about it months ago and I complained to the school several times!! No one ever called me back!"

"Parents, children, and community need immediate and unfiltered transparency," George Gares wrote.

"Here is what I want to know," Frank Stumbo wrote. "If the situation has been addressed "multiple times" with the child and parents...why is there still a need to have officers in place both in and out of uniform?

"If the threat has been eliminated, why the need?" Stumbo added. "As a parent in this town I demand answers, not a generic email that tells me less than nothing."

Kristine Bersch urged that parents also be concerned for the boy himself, as well as for his family:

"He clearly is in a pain and needs services to address his mental health. I hope this child gets what he needs so there will be no future threat! It’s the only safety we can all hope for in our community moving forward. The impact reaches all of us."

The consensus was that a Board of Education public forum -- sooner rather than later -- would be the best way to address all concerns.

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