Spate of threats against Fargo-Moorhead area schools in line with national, regional surge

The recent threats of violence could be stemming in part from the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, one expert said.

The east campus of Horizon Middle School is seen Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in south Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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MOORHEAD — Since mid-October, at least seven threats of violence against schools have been investigated by law enforcement and school administrators in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

So far, four of the threats have led to suspensions or arrests.

While local schools and police have systems in place to respond to school violence, they say they don't keep statistics on school threats. Nationally, school shootings and threats of violence are increasing, according to the Violence Project , a nonprofit research center .

The recent threats of violence could be stemming in part from the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, said Kathy Cowan, the staff liaison for school safety and crisis response for the National Association of School Psychologists .

“We have seen data from the U.S. Surgeon General of absolute increases in mental health issues in kids since the pandemic,” Cowan said. “People lose their ability to cope and it can lead to increased risks for negative behaviors. In some cases it could be increased suicide risks or increased risks to seeing no hope or escalating anger."


Like in the Oxford High School shooting that left four people dead and others injured on Nov. 30 in Michigan, many students leave physical or online signs of their mental deterioration that can lead to violent acts, Cowan said.

Historically, when an act of school violence makes national headlines, copycat threats are echoed across the country. “Sometimes that copycat behavior is legitimate and a real risk. Sometimes it is a valve release or they don’t have any intentions of doing anything with the threat, but it makes them feel better for some reason,” she said.

While school violence is a risk, the chance of becoming a victim is low, Cowan said.

“Our recommendation is that kids are safest in schools. They are safe in school, and it can be helpful for kids in times of stress to be around their peers and around adults who know what is going on,” she said.

Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead school districts participate in the Cass-Clay United School Response, a group of schools and law enforcement agencies that have put emergency response protocols in place. Developed in 2006, the concept has evolved into a multi-jurisdictional response plan that protects more than 29,000 students in 16 districts.

Like other local districts, West Fargo Public Schools employs counselors, social workers, psychologists and school resource officers to help students with support.

“School safety is everyone’s job. It is a topic that we at WFPS talk about more often than people realize, and more often than we would perhaps like,” said Heather Leas, a spokeswoman for West Fargo Public Schools.


West Fargo Superintendent Beth Slette and West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness take turns speaking Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, during a press conference regarding a threat at Cheney Middle School. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

String of threats

The latest in a string of local incidents that have spurred concerns and investigations came Thursday, Dec. 9. Moorhead School District announced that a social media screenshot about school violence at "HMS" was determined to be a generic photograph circulating on Pinterest and had no tie to Horizon Middle School.

Other recent local threats have included:

  • On Wednesday, West Fargo police investigated “rumors of threats” to Liberty and Heritage middle schools, but found the online threats not to be credible, said police spokeswoman Melissa Richard. A student was later arrested in connection to the Liberty incident.
  • On Tuesday, West Fargo's Cheney Middle School held a day of online classes after threats of violence were directed toward the school. Police arrested two juveniles in connection with the threats .
  • On Nov. 29, a Lincoln Elementary student brought a loaded handgun to school and was suspended pending the results of an investigation, according to Fargo School District officials.
  • On Nov. 17, a student at Horizon Middle School turned in to school administrators a Snapchat of a handwritten note that threatened school violence. The threat was deemed not credible, authorities said.
  • On Oct. 14, a Moorhead High School Career Academy student was taken into custody after he allegedly brought a fake gun to school, according to Moorhead police.

School threats have been recently investigated elsewhere in the region, including:

Reporter Alex Derosier contributed to this story.

Cheney Middle School in West Fargo. Forum file photo

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