BELEN — Law enforcement officers are continuing to investigate a threat made at Belen High School last week which led to a campus-wide lock down.
Just before 2 p.m., Friday, Sept. 23, a message was AirDropped to several students on campus, threatening that someone intended to commit a shooting at the school. The campus was placed on a full lockdown — no one was allowed to enter or leave — as multiple agencies converged on the campus.
On Monday, the investigation continued with Belen Police Department Chief James Harris returning to BHS for follow up. At this time, no one has been identified or charged in the incident.
Harris said any charges brought will depend on the severity of what is found during the investigation.
“It could be something like interference with school process to something very severe like making terrorist threats,” the chief said.
Belen Consolidated Schools Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez said the district was extremely grateful to all the emergency responders on scene last week.
“There was a great outpouring of support from law enforcement,” Sanchez said. While it’s never the hope to have an active threat on a campus, the superintendent said the incident went well, but there’s always room for improvement.
“You don’t find out where you need improvement until you do it for real,” he said. “We had a debriefing this morning (Monday) and we will share that information with Belen PD so we understand what we can do better.”
Part of the procedure during a lockdown is when a law enforcement agency arrives on scene, that agency assumes incident command, Sanchez said.
“At that point, we are no longer making decisions. We are supporting the incident command. It’s a lot of leaders working under one leader to keep the chain of command,” the superintendent said.
During and after the incident, Sanchez said there were complaints from parents and community members that there wasn’t enough information being shared and updated by the district.
“When and what information is released falls under the incident commander, and I agree with this. People also have to remember, if there is a perpetrator on campus, they have the same access to social media as the rest of us do, so we have to be careful what we share,” he said. “On Friday, they were doing a classroom-to-classroom sweep, which you can’t let be known at the time. We hold back information to keep everyone safe.
“I hope people recognize everyone was concerned for their children. Trust in the process and law enforcement. Know that we are doing everything we can to protect our students.”
According to a message Harris posted on BPD’s Facebook page after the campus was searched and students released last week, the AirDrop message would have had to been sent from a very short distance for the students to receive it.
According to an article on pcmag.com about the AirDrop service, which is propriety to iPhone and Mac devices, a successful transfer between devices should be done within 30 feet.
In the Facebook post, Harris wrote the message was sent right before the class bell rang, and by the time officers arrived at the school, the students had been dismissed from that specific area.
“Students who had been in that area at the time the message was sent had moved to other classes in different areas of the school,” the post read.
Officers determined which students were present in the area. They were located and investigated as to any possible involvement. No weapons were found on any student.
“We then, in an abundance of caution, evacuated the school in a systematic fashion in order to ensure the safety of all students and staff. At this time we do not believe that there is or was a credible threat to the school,” the chief wrote. “However, this investigation is far from over and we will be utilizing all avenues of investigation available to us to determine who was responsible for sending these threats.”
Other agencies that responded to the threat were the New Mexico State Police, the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, Los Lunas police and Bosque Farms police departments.
“I want to thank those agencies and the school staff and administrators for all the support provided,” Harris wrote. “I would also like to thank all of the parents of the students for your patience and understanding and, of course, the students for not making this situation any more difficult than it needed to be.”
If anyone has any information that could lead to the identification of the person who sent the messages, contact the Belen Police Department at 505-966-2681.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.