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Three Gateway Middle School students disciplined in 'hit list' incident

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By Kyle Lawson
Friday, March 21, 2014, 10:27 a.m.
 

A few Gateway Middle School parents awoke to a troubling text message on Friday morning because a school resource officer confiscated an alleged “hit list” from three students the day before.

Principal Tony Aquilio sent the text about midnight only to parents of students included on the hard-copy list. District policy prohibits phone calls after 10:30 p.m.

“School administration and the school resource officer investigated an alleged hit list written by multiple students,” Aquilio wrote. “The appropriate actions were taken to determine the validity of the alleged threat, and there was no malicious intent discovered. ... At no point was any student or teacher in any danger.”

Gateway Middle School parent Kim Edgar said she learned of the incident via Facebook and kept her child home from school on Friday because she didn't receive an email, phone call or text message from the district.

“I was very angry,” Edgar said. “They can call and tell me about fundraisers, but they can't call about this?”

Monroeville police Chief Doug Cole said a teacher overheard two male students talking in class on Thursday about who they would “take out.”

A school resource officer who investigated the incident told Cole, who learned of the incident on Friday, that the students were apologetic. The three were disciplined in-house, district spokeswoman Cara Zanella said.

More than 600 students attend Gateway Middle, which draws seventh- and eighth-graders from Monroeville and Pitcairn.

Superintendent Nina Zetty found out about the list on Facebook, Zanella said.

“It was handled well, but there was a problem with communication,” Zanella said. “Their investigation found it was not a credible hit list.”

Parents criticized the district on the social media site.

“NO communication, either letter or phone call, from the school district,” read a late-night post from the Facebook profile of a person who said he is a Gateway parent. “In matters such as this, it is VITAL for the District to inform parents of the students as to whether or not the presence of such a list was true or not.”

Cole said the students' actions don't require police action, but that the Monroeville officer who first investigated the incident should have spoken to him regardless of whether there was “malicious intent.”

“Because of the times we live in, (school officials) take everything very seriously,” Zanella said.

A mass shooting in 1999 in Columbine High School in Colorado was followed by multiple school shootings nationwide, including a shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in 2012 that claimed 26 lives. A Pittsburgh teenager is awaiting trial on three counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault and four counts of reckless endangerment in connection with a Nov. 13 shooting outside Brashear High School in Beechview.

District policy prohibits material that could constitute a direct and substantial danger to the health of other students, but the rules don't specify a penalty.

Gateway Middle School reported 17 incidents involving 29 offenders last school year, including five that prompted police action, according to state-mandated Safe Schools Reports. Seven students among 18 total offenders were arrested in 2011-12. The school reported no arrests in the three previous years.

A similar incident was reported in the Brownsville Area School District this week.

A middle school student was accused of posting a hit list, officials said. Parents were notified, but officials would not say whether the student was suspended or expelled.

Trib Total Media staff writer Megan Harris contributed. Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at klawson@tribweb.com or at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755.

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