SAFE SCHOOLS

Local, federal law enforcement investigate bomb threats after ‘furry’ outrage at middle school

May 1, 2024, 7:24 PM | Updated: 7:49 pm

PAYSON — The Payson Police Department on Wednesday said it and federal law enforcement partners are investigating bomb threats made against Mt. Nebo Middle School after the school’s principal received an emailed bomb threat around 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

“It was a one sentence threat … that the middle school was going to explode in one hour’s time, and that was the end of the email,” said Payson Police Sgt. Scott Hall.

Hall said the school was subsequently evacuated as the department waited for the threat timeline to expire, after which bomb-sniffing dogs were taken through the building while the department and assisting officers conducted a physical search.

Hall didn’t disclose where the email came from, whether it came from inside Utah or out of state, or if it was from the same email address that sent bomb threats to Nebo School District officials and local media outlets on April 19.

‘Furry’ controversy

According to the Nebo School District, Tuesday’s threat was the third against the school in two weeks and comes on the heels of student protests and social media outrage — mainly stemming from conservative circles — over allegations of students at the school behaving like “furries,” dressing up like animals and biting, barking and pouncing on fellow students.

Those allegations were “completely unfounded,” said Seth Sorenson, spokesman for the district.

In April, a small group of students at the school was wearing headbands with animal ears, which led other students to throw food at them. Kelsey James, spokeswoman for the Utah State Board of Education, said that incident prompted the school to send a letter to students’ families.

The letter, which was obtained by KSL.com on Thursday, reminded students of the district’s dress code, which says “jewelry, accessories, tattoos, hair, facial hair and other elements of a student’s appearance that draw undue attention, distract, disrupt, or otherwise interfere with the learning atmosphere at school or at school activities and events, or that create a health, safety, or welfare issue are prohibited.”

After the administration had conversations with the students wearing the headbands — noting that they were a “little bit of a disruption” — the students stopped wearing them, Sorenson said.

He added the school hasn’t seen any incidents of students engaging in biting, licking or any other forms of animal-like behavior.

A mother named Alicia, whose last name KSL.com is not sharing, said her daughter was part of the group wearing headbands. She said the headbands are animal masks, which her daughter and her friends wore to school.

“This is a game they like to play. She likes to fit in with her friends,” she said. “I know that her friends are making those masks and they’re very, very proud of them. It wasn’t ever a ‘she’s confused about her identity.’ It was just something that her, a hobby that her friends had, and they like to share that together at school.”

Still, the social media outrage that spurred from these events has seemingly emboldened an unknown actor or actors to inundate the school with bomb threats.

“The threats did not specifically state any groups of students or individuals in the building that were part of the threat, and they did not call out those as the reason for the threat. However, because of other things that were currently happening at the school, it was deduced at the time and even spread on social media … that maybe because of some previous incidents at the school — a walkout that had happened shortly before — that that was the reason for those threats,” Sorensen said.

In response to the rash of bomb threats, Sorensen said the district has brought “additional adult supervisors” into the school to monitor what is happening.

“We don’t know whether they’re (the threats) are credible or not. To us, that doesn’t make a difference. We will investigate every threat of this nature as if it were credible, and it will be done that way every time,” Hall said, adding the department is not aware of any ongoing threat to the community.

Hall also said that the department has stationed an officer at Mt. Nebo Middle School, who will be at the school every day for the duration of the school year.

“These will be investigated to the fullest extent, not only by ourselves, but federal agencies, and if we identify suspects, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent,” Hall said.


Contributing: Lindsay Aerts

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Local, federal law enforcement investigate bomb threats after ‘furry’ outrage at middle school