13 Investigates: HISD incident comes amid increase in violent threats for district

ByTed Oberg and Sarah Rafique via KTRK logo
Tuesday, September 13, 2022
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13 Investigates found there were 34 threats of planned school attacks last year at the Houston Independent School District, up from seven threats in the 2019-20 school year.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As they sat at their desks in lockdown, waiting to find out if their classmates had fallen victim to gun violence, students at Heights High School were part of a district facing an increase in threats of planned school attacks.

13 Investigates found there were 34 threats of planned school attacks last year at the Houston Independent School District, up from seven threats in the 2019-20 school year.

Just like Tuesday's threat that prompted a schoolwide lockdown, not all of the threats the district receives are credible.

Law enforcement officers searched classrooms at Heights High on Tuesday after receiving a call of an active shooter on campus. Police say that threat was a false alarm and no students were injured.

"Our officers arrived within minutes. We got a report of ten people shot, which was untrue. We didn't know it at the time," Houston Police Department Chief Troy Finner said. "Whoever made this call, we're going to trace it down and we're going to hold them accountable."

RELATED: 'There was no active shooter' at Heights HS, says Houston police chief

Still, the threat of violence at schools is present across Texas and the U.S.

More than 26,000 students were caught with a firearm at schools across the U.S. over the last 10 years, according to federal data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Nationwide, it's about 6 students for every 100,000 enrolled.

In Texas, students have been disciplined for having a firearm at school in 557 incidents over the last three years.

There were also 15,184 fighting incidents statewide during the 2020-21 school year. The number of fights during the pandemic are down from the 2018-19 school year, when there were 49,120 fights.

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At HISD, there are officers on every high school campus, but the district chief said weeks before school started he wanted more.

"With a school district this size, we have over 280 campuses and facilities," HISD Police Chief Pete Lopez told 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg in July. "The numbers don't add up. I only have 202 officers, so obviously, the numbers don't match. I have to put my resources where the calls of service dictate it, like mostly the high schools and middle schools, so the elementary schools, I think about it every day."

Dr. Roberta Scott, director of HISD's Social and Emotional Learning department, who directs the response to threats of harm districtwide, works with HISD police to respond to threats reported to the district's anonymous "Say Something Anonymous Reporting System" app.

She also said a larger team would help her team respond to students' needs.

"For a district with 272 plus campuses, over 196,000 kids, I have a team of about 40 people, so that is a very small team for the work that needs to be done," Scott said.

RELATED: Heights HS parents drop everything and show up at school amid active shooter fears

Our investigation found Houston children are facing levels of violence all over the city. Every year, dozens of weapons are found in Houston schools, according to the Texas Education Agency.

In Houston alone, 261 teens have been shot so far this year across the city, down only slightly from the same period last year, according to a 13 Investigates analysis of data from the Houston Police Department.

"We all have the fears because as you see, active shooter events happen everywhere. Violence happens everywhere," Lopez said. "You need to have that conversation and prepare your children for an event that if something happens, what are you going to do?"

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