Lunenburg schools, sheriff address threat aftermath

Published 5:40 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2022

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VICTORIA – Any Lunenburg student who stays home this week due to the recent threat will have their absence excused. Officials with Lunenburg County Public Schools made that clear Tuesday. There’s just one requirement. 

“Parents will need to write a note stating that their child is absent due to concerns regarding the threat to schools,” district officials said in a statement Tuesday. That’s for Wednesday, Sept. 14 through Friday, Sept. 16. All absences were excused without notes for Tuesday’s classes. 

The Lunenburg County Sheriff’s Office received a threat through their Facebook page on Sunday, Sept. 11. That threat targeted the school district and as a result, Superintendent Charles Berkley Jr. closed every building Monday out of caution. 

“The threat itself was vague in its target, but specific enough to be taken seriously,” the district’s Tuesday statement said. “Because this is an active investigation, we are not able to comment any further about the details of the threat itself.” 

An investigation takes time

One thing Lunenburg Sheriff Arthur Townsend Jr. asked for was patience, as tracking the source of a threat like this takes time. 

“Obviously, situations involving online activities take time to pursue the different avenues of identifying the source of the message,” Townsend said in a statement Tuesday night. “We are making progress. As most people know, identification can be tricky because of fraudulent options used by perpetrators.” 

Townsend said his investigators were eliminating false leads and pursuing more productive ones, with the help of the Virginia State Police’s High-Tech Crimes Division. He asked people to call Crime Stoppers at (434) 696-3100 or the Lunenburg County Sheriff’s Office at (434) 696-4452 if they had any information about the crime. 

Townsend also touched on the multiple rumors which spread through the community since the first school announcement came Sunday night. Calling some of them “outlandish”, he said they were definitely without merit. 

A lack of communication with Lunenburg schools

The problem for some Lunenburg County parents isn’t the fact schools were closed on Monday. It’s how the district went about doing it. 

“I’m glad they closed the school for the kids’ safety, but they could have given us some kind of details with what was going on,” said Amanda Sebester. She has a son who attends school in Lunenburg. “I would have liked for them to have better communication with us about details. I know they cannot say everything until it is resolved (but) the threat made online was not told to us until after news crews showed up.”

Residents and school staff members alike were caught by surprise when the school district staff put out a statement on Sunday, Sept. 11, just after 8 p.m. The statement, that school was closed Monday due to “unforeseen circumstances”, lacked clarity that parents said they needed.

Lunenburg resident Lisa Spears said the problem is that it’s not just public school parents involved. When schools suddenly close, with no reason given as to why, that raises concern for the entire community. 

“They didn’t take into consideration that they not only let down their students and faculty with their lack of communication, they let down the entire Lunenburg (community),” Spears said. “Shutting everything down for one day doesn’t take the threat away. It eases panic for 24 hours. The threat of someone hurting or wanting to hurt the children of our community is still there and (only when) they tell people the real reason why everything was closed, then we can start to tackle the threat.” 

Spears said she took her three children out of the Lunenburg school system due to a lack of trust. She didn’t trust them to educate her children and didn’t trust them to keep the three safe. 

“I find that the lack of communication for this entire situation makes them look unreliable and untrustworthy,” Spears said. 

Other parents said they understood the need to be discreet, but some information should have been shared. 

“I understand they had to be discreet to a degree, but still it was abrupt and could have been handled better,” said Kristina Marshburn. “Not only were we completely left in the dark as to why they canceled schools, they won’t answer questions. It wasn’t handled properly at all and still I believe there are more parents that will not be sending their kids to school tomorrow than those sending them.” 

Marshburn said she was included in that number, as her kids would stay home until she hears about an arrest. 

“As for mine, they will be staying home until the “situation” is resolved,” Marshburn said. “My children are not meant to be your bait to catch the bad guys.” 

In the district’s earlier statement Monday, officials said they didn’t share details out of concern that too much information might make it harder to arrest the people involved. 

Providing a safe environment   

The sheriff’s office and school district sent out a joint press release Tuesday night, emphasizing there will be an increased law enforcement presence at Lunenburg County Schools while the investigation continues. Deputies will be onsite and within the area to both reassure and protect everyone in each of these schools. 

“Providing a safe learning environment for our students, faculty and staff is an everyday priority for us,” the statement said. “School districts across our nation are dealing with threats of violence on a constant basis. Even though the majority of them turn out to be hoaxes, there remains no room for complacency on our part.” 

They thanked parents, residents, students, school faculty and staff for their understanding and patience while this investigation plays out. 

“In today’s environment, decisive action is necessary to ensure the safety of our schools and communities at all times,” the joint statement said. “Both of our departments are fully committed to keeping our children, teachers and staff safe from harm at school facilities across the county.”

Dispatch reporter Crystal Vandegrift contributed to this report.