Niverville High School Deals with Aftermath of Gun Threat


Parents gather to hear Principal Michael Koester and Superintendent Randy Dueck address their concerns. Evan Braun

On the evening of Tuesday, February 20, a student from Niverville Collegiate Institute (NCI) issued a threat against the school on social media. The Instagram post included an image of a gun alongside the caption “Schools gonna be fun tomorrow.”

Shortly after, around 10:30 p.m., the RCMP were notified about the post by multiple members of the public. One person who saw the post was an educational assistant at NCI, who subsequently notified Judith Hinton, the school’s guidance counsellor.

Within the hour, four police officers attended the student’s home as part of their rapid response. Officers spoke with the student and quickly determined two things. Number one, the gun in the photo was a BB gun as opposed to a real firearm. Number two, that photo had been taken several months earlier and the student didn’t presently have the BB gun in their possession.

As part of their investigation, the RCMP also contacted a second person of interest who didn’t have a direct connection to the case.

By 11:30 p.m., the RCMP contacted Hinton to confirm that the threat had been neutralized. Hinton then attempted to contact NCI Principal Michael Koester, but she couldn’t get in touch with him at such a late hour. She sent text messages and left a voicemail on his cell phone. Koester, sound asleep, first received the news upon waking early Wednesday morning.

Alarmed, Koester immediately contacted 911 to verify the situation. Because the RCMP had deemed the situation non-urgent, the 911 operator couldn’t provide any further details and encouraged him to contact the local RCMP detachment.

Koester then called Hanover School Division (HSD) Superintendent Randy Dueck around 7:15 a.m., bringing him into the loop.

To both Koester’s and Dueck’s frustration, however, the RCMP detachment could not be reached until the office opened at 8:00 a.m.

“[Koester] was already aware that the RCMP had addressed the situation,” Dueck says. “So we knew that the RCMP were on it and were dealing with it. Had this been something really urgent, they would have made more attempts to contact us. That’s a little bit of an assumption we were making, but I think it was a fair assumption.”

“It is a correct assumption,” says Constable Kevin Theriault of the St. Pierre detachment. “If we believed that there was any kind of danger or harm to not just the children, but also the parents, the teachers, everyone—our job is to protect everyone—then yes, we would have taken further steps at that point in time. We would take extra steps if we believed somebody was not safe. That’s what we do on a daily basis.”

Nonetheless, Dueck recalls feeling very uncomfortable and nervous as he waited for the detachment to answer their phones in the morning.

“I’m pretty certain this isn’t actually a life-or-death situation right now,” he remembers thinking. “Pretty certain. But I really need to talk to someone at the RCMP to be sure. So I keep on trying.”

By 8:10, Dueck was able to confirm that although the investigation was ongoing, there was no active threat against the school. No one was in imminent danger—but that was about the extent of what Dueck or anyone else at the division knew.

The decision was thus made not to cancel school and to proceed with the day as scheduled while they continued to gather details.

At no point was NCI under a lockdown protocol, although a search was conducted on the student’s locker by Koester. A spokesperson from the RCMP has noted that a lockdown wouldn’t have been necessary due to the results of their investigation Tuesday evening. In addition, officers were on hand at the school.

Once the details of the incident were confirmed, the school division sent out an email to all parents and guardians of both NCI (at 10:30 a.m.) and the Niverville Elementary School (at 11:15 a.m.). That email provided few concrete details but sought to assure parents and guardians that the situation was under control and that the threat had been neutralized.

“In hindsight, there were some preventable communication gaps that resulted in a delay of communication between the school and division, and a preliminary email should have been sent out at 8:10 a.m. (upon official verification from RCMP), with a more detailed explanation to follow,” Dueck wrote in a follow-up letter to parents on Thursday afternoon. In this letter, he also detailed the precise timeline of events. “We take the safety and security of students/staff very seriously, but this incident also affirms to us that we can learn from each new experience.”

The student, who is a minor, cannot be named. It can be confirmed that no arrest has been made at the time of this writing, although the investigation is ongoing as to any potential criminality behind the events.

Meeting with Parents
Parents and guardians were invited to attend an impromptu meeting Thursday evening at NCI. At 7:00 p.m., about a hundred parents crowded into the band room as Dueck, joined by five HSD trustees and two members of the St. Pierre-Jolys RCMP detachment, spoke further about the incident and addressed the parents’ concerns.

Dueck took a conciliatory tone, admitting that the way the school division communicated with parents could be improved. 

“In hindsight, that was a mistake on my part,” Dueck said to parents. “We’ve taken a look and decided that in the future, if there’s another such situation, the first thing we will do is get notification out to you [parents] as soon as we are able and to let you know that this is what’s happened. I was trying to get more details before speaking with you, but I should have given you the information right at the outset and let you know.”

He acknowledged that throughout Wednesday morning, there was a lot of confusion among parents who were receiving conflicting information from phone calls, texts, and social media, much of it inaccurate. For example, some parents heard or read reports that the student had brought a gun to school—something which never happened.

“There was a great deal of alarm,” Dueck added. “Hopefully the next time never happens, but we think we can do better at it next time by getting something out to you as soon as we know it’s okay. We didn’t do that. I apologize for that.”

Those in attendance expressed a wide range of concerns and anxieties about the incident.

One parent described a hysterical situation where kids were dragged away from a bus stop and told, “Go home! Go home! There’s a gun at school! Go home!”

“The [initial] letter that came out just said that everything was under control,” another parent said. “It was very vague and misleading because we didn’t know what that meant. It said the threat was neutralized, and I think it caused panic for us.”

“My daughter said that she didn’t know if there was someone else involved,” said a third parent. “They see all this stuff on the news. Just because one kid was taken care, how did they know that [they] didn’t have a partner?”

Others took the opportunity to thank the school division for their transparency in admitting fault, and for some of the positive actions that were taken.

“I, for my part, have been very appreciative of our school,” a parent chimed in. “None of my kids called me, and when they came home, they came home very normal. I said, ‘So how was school today? I hear stuff went on.’ They said, ‘Oh, it felt very normal. Teachers talked to us first thing in the morning.’ I’m very appreciative that kids were not in school all day not knowing, that [the teachers] took the time in each class to talk to the students.”

Yet another parent praised the RCMP for their rapid response. “My main concern is not so much that I’m aware right off the bat, but I want to know that my kid’s safe,” said one mother. “So for me, I appreciate that the RCMP got involved very quick. Lucky for us in a small town, there were people who could notify them because they saw the post. I believe that the connections we have, we should be grateful for.”

Proposed Changes
Several potential improvements were suggested throughout the meeting for how to deal with the fallout of a similar situation in the future, should one occur.

Dueck pointed out that the division could have used the same telephone alert system that’s currently used to inform parents of school cancellations during snowstorms. He acknowledged that the only reason this wasn’t done is that no one thought of it in time. Along these lines, several updates are being made to the division’s crisis management protocols.

One parent suggested an increase in the number of lockdown drills conducted at the school. Koester replied that the school currently conducts two lockdown drills per year, and ten fire drills, which is a provincial requirement. The next lockdown drill is scheduled for March 7, and had been scheduled long before the current incident.

While some parents were pleased with the measures taken by teachers to inform kids of the situation first thing in the morning, other parents pointed out that their own kids didn’t receive the same assurances. One proposed solution was to either have a set script, per se, so that all teachers convey the same information. Other options include PA announcements or schoolwide assemblies.

One of the proposals which received the most vocal support from parents was for the school to strongly consider cancelling school out of an abundance of caution, even in a situation where the RCMP had determined the school to be safe.

Finally, Koester noted that a psychologist and a social worker were on active duty at NCI on the day of the incident, as well as the following day. The protocol was for a teacher to contact the guidance counsellor or a resource staff member if a student wa s struggling. It was suggested that it might be beneficial to let the student body at large know that these resources are available to them, so that they don’t have to rely on a teacher noticing that they’re having trouble coping.

Other parents urged the school to consider the fate of the student very carefully.

“It just seems like common sense that there would be a zero tolerance policy,” a mother pointed out. “Especially in this day and age, especially with something like what just happened in Florida. To say that the board has to decide, it seems like a pretty easy decision, especially if you have children to think about. I don’t know where to go from here. It’s ridiculous that it’s even a thought that we could bring this kid back into the school.”

Dueck acknowledged that it’s too early to say what the school division will decide about the fate of the student who posted the threat.

“We’re going to be doing a thorough investigation of this before we make a decision as to what is going to happen with this particular student,” Dueck said. “The thorough investigation includes a professional safety and risk analysis. We have psychologists in Hanover School Division who have had to do a number of safety and risk analyses, so we’ve done that a number of times over the last number of years. It’s a very high-end, professional document that’s done after interviews with the student, interviews with the parents, and interviews with anyone else deemed important to the case. Then the psychologists will make some recommendations to us about how to move forward. I have to bring those recommendations to the board and the board decides… That’s the process that will take place. And it’s going to take a while.”

Although Dueck notes that he’s restricted by confidentiality laws at this point and can’t offer any specifics, he wants people to be reassured that this will not merely be a matter of slapping a five-day suspension on the student and then letting them back into the school.

“That’s not how it will work,” Dueck says, adding that until the school board makes a final determination the student in question will not be allowed to return. “I know this is a concern, and I know it’s been an expressed concern for a lot of people in the community as well.”

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