After recent violent threats to schools, experts say mental health resources there for students




  • In US
  • 2021-12-09 11:41:06Z
  • By The State Journal-Register
Springfield District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill talks about the trauma that students have gone through recently during a press conference addressing recent threats to area schools at the Sangamon County Board Chambers in Springfield, Ill.
Springfield District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill talks about the trauma that students have gone through recently during a press conference addressing recent threats to area schools at the Sangamon County Board Chambers in Springfield, Ill.  

Mental health issues are prolific among young people but help and resources are available, said a behavioral specialist who was part of a press conference in Springfield Wednesday addressing recent threats to area schools.

Seventy percent of youths nationally admitted they are struggling with mental health issues, said Diana Knaebe, president, Memorial Behavioral Health at the Sangamon County Board Chambers. It comes at a time when 60% of youth are saying they are more isolated and lonelier than they have ever felt before, Knaebe added.

"Youth may be struggling with day-to-day issues, given today's environment, and then you throw in these kinds of things and potential fear," Knaebe said. "It's really important, whether it's for one's own mental health and well-being, that you seek services as early as possible."

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Springfield Police arrested three juvenile students Tuesday and Wednesday after threats of violence were made in separate incidents.

On Wednesday, a Glenwood High School student, was arrested at Chatham Police headquarters after a threat was made to the school via the Yik Yak messaging platform.

All of those arrested are at the Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center.

"We will apply the full force of the law to deter this conduct and to hold those responsible accountable," said Sangamon County State's Attorney Dan Wright.

None of the threats resulted in actual violence, but Wright said his office takes "every single threat of violence in our community, particularly involving schools, very, very seriously."

While some of the occurrences viewed as a joke or a prank, "we certainly don't view them that way and they are violations of the criminal statutes of the state of Illinois and will be treated as such," Wright added.

In other instances, a threat of violence could be "a legitimate manifestation of mental illness, a student's cry for help in need of services," he said.

Threats of gun violence or bomb threats could ultimately be prosecuted under the Illinois Terrorism Statute, Wright said, with possible penalties of six to 30 years in the Department of Corrections and up to $25,000 in fines.

Anybody who commits a threat using the internet or a phone that crosses state lines is subject to a federal crime, said acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois Doug Quivey. The office, though, does not usually prosecute juveniles.

Yik Yak, which was used in at least one other Springfield case involving a juvenile, is a social media smartphone app that allows people to create and view discussion threads anonymously within a five-mile radius. The platform was recently relaunched.

The Springfield Police Department was acknowledged, including at Tuesday's city council meeting, for its quick work on the case.

"People think they're anonymous, that they can get by with things," said SPD Police Chief Kenny Winslow. "They can't. There are three individuals sitting over at JDC who are going to learn that lesson the tough way."

Earlier: Glenwood High School goes to soft lockdown; Springfield police arrest 3 in separate threats

School District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill said the district will be involved in a community roundtable at the University of Illinois Springfield next week. A small group of individuals will talk about some of the initiatives in place to address mental health issues as well as the trauma some students are facing.

The threats come on the heels of the Nov. 17 fatal stabbing of Lanphier High School senior Pierre V. Scott Jr. outside of the school. One other student was hurt in the incident.

Gill said she wouldn't speculate whether the timing of the threats is a fallout from the Nov. 30 mass shooting at Oxford (Michigan) High School or connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I would say all of the above," Gill said. "We're back in school together, next to each other each and every day and there are a lot of things we're all dealing with because of the pandemic and because of different incidents that have happened across our country over time."

Knaebe said a beneficial tool just made available to District 186 students is Safe 2 Help Illinois. The confidential help line can be accessed if they sense someone is posing a threat at school.

Memorial Behavioral Health has employees who are imbedded in District 186 schools and Riverton schools, Knaebe said.

"We don't want someone to get to the point where they're in crisis and they're feeling like they may want to harm themselves and others," she said. "It's important to reach out."

"It's absolutely critical," Quivey added, "that troubling behaviors get reported and that children and adults get the help they need, both through the schools and in the community."

The Safe 2 Help Illinois hotline is 844-4-SAFEIL. You can also text to SAFE2 (72332) or visit www.safe2helpil.com.

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, sspearie@sj-r.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Sangamon County State's Attorney is taking school threats seriously

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