Officials: Note implied threat to schools

RICHMOND — A note found by police in the woods near Saturdays sniper shooting indicated a possible threat to schools, according to several high-ranking school and government officials.

That information prompted Richmond-area school superintendents to reverse an earlier decision and close schools Monday.

Schools remain closed today in most of the metro Richmond area.

However, schools in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park will remain open with all activities held indoors.

The decision-making process began Sunday afternoon, when Richmond-area school officials held a press conference urging parents to send their children to school.

“At 4 [p.m.], the decision was that schools were the safest place for students,” Chesterfield County School Board Chairman Dr. James Schroeder said. “At 7 [p.m.], obviously the superintendents had received other information recommending that schools be closed.”

About 150,000 students from schools in Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico and Powhatan counties and the city of Richmond stayed home Monday. A number of private schools were also closed.

“When school administrators feel or sense that there may be harm placed upon children when they are at schools, the best decision is not having them at school,” said Chesterfield Administrator Lane B. Ramsey.

An official from another local county confirmed that the note made reference to a possible threat to schools.

After the Sunday night decision, Henrico schools Superintendent Mark A. Edwards told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that local schools would be closed Monday because of numerous calls from parents concerned about student safety.

Edwards acknowledged Monday that police information was a factor.

“Our primary rationale for closing schools did have to with the response from parents,” Edwards said. “We used the best data available from law enforcement agencies in making our decision as well.”

One school official said he believes Edwards answered the way he did based on a “judgment call in trying to keep the fear and hysteria down.”

Another school official said that police werent concerned just about possible violence at school buildings, but also that school buses and trailers would be vulnerable to an attack.

“There was a credible threat made in the area that something was going to happen,” one high-ranking local government official said Monday.

Richmond schools Superinten-dent Deborah Jewell-Sherman said she had not heard about the contents of the note. But another Richmond school source confirmed that the note was the reason Richmond-area schools were closed Monday and today.

The closings were prompted by Saturdays shooting outside an Ashland Ponderosa restaurant. The note containing the possible threat to schools was found in the woods nearby.

The victim, a 37-year-old man, was shot once in the abdomen and remains in critical condition at Medical College of Virginia at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The shooting has been positively linked to the Washington, D.C.-area sniper shootings that have terrorized the region since Oct. 2.

School officials were especially concerned and cautious.

“We went out at first and said schools are the safest place,” Schroeder said, “but if police have information saying our schools might be threatened, we have to respect that.”

Meredith Fischer and Paige Akin are writers at Richmond Times-Dispatch. Staff writers Holly Carroll and Jason Wermers contributed to this report.

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