Trust in School Resource Officer lead to tip about Rural Retreat HS online threat

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WYTHE COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ7) A 14-year-old Wythe County student was in jail Wednesday night after the Sheriff's Office said he made threats online against another student.

According to the Sheriff, the teen messaged other students asking how he could get a gun to shoot another boy.

One of the students that the 14-year-old talked to showed the messages to the School Resource Officer here.

The office takes threats like that very seriously. Especially because one of the people arrested in a double homicide back in December posted similar threats online a year before his alleged crime.

The potentially dangerous situation at Rural Retreat High School was thwarted as the system put in place worked. It's thanks to the Sheriff's Office building up trust with the students.

Sheriff Keith Dunagan said, “We're in and out of the schools a lot here, so these kids start seeing us at an early age and I guess they're used to having us around.”

The school system said it knows students are comfortable talking with the officers about anything they're concerned with.

Wythe County Public Schools Director of Human Resources Richie Thomas explained, “Our Resource Officers are just part of the family. They blend in with the kids, our kids feel comfortable going to them, and [even] if it's just anything on a personal level.”

It also helps, Thomas said, that this particular deputy has such a close tie with these students.

“I know the deputy at Rural Retreat is from that community, so he's probably watched those kids grow up in front of his own eyes,” Thomas said.

The 14-year-old was not in school on Monday. But once the Sheriff's Office received the report, they were able to arrest him at his house.

“School Resource Officers in today's time are invaluable,” Sheriff Dunagan said. “You need to have them in the schools, is my opinion, and not just the high schools but in all the schools.”

This incident comes less than a week after our report that the Sheriff's Office is expected to pull the Resource Officers out of schools because of lack of funding.

The Sheriff said the county is considering School Safety Officers.

These are men and women who are not sworn and who will not be trained by the Sheriff's Office due to liability concerns.

When asked if a SSO would have the same impact in school as an SRO, Sheriff Dunagan said, “I don’t know the answer to that. I think having a trained uniformed officer in the schools is the best option. But anything that we can do to make the schools safer is a plus.

Thomas said of the issue, “I think we really miss our Resource Officers, if they are not in the buildings next year and I’m hoping the powers that be can make it happen to where we have them. I’d like to see Resource Officers in all 13 of our buildings.”

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