False threat again rattles Flagler Schools, as Sheriff Staly equates calls to terrorism

Investigations continue at Buddy Taylor Middle, while communications 'glitch' frustrates Palm Coast parents.

Buddy Taylor Middle School. Photo by Brian McMillan
Buddy Taylor Middle School. Photo by Brian McMillan
  • Palm Coast Observer
  • Share

For the third day in a row, Buddy Taylor Middle School in Palm Coast was locked down due to threats. The most recent lockdown was about 7 a.m. to 7:23 a.m. on Thursday, May 16, and classes have resumed. But the disruption extends far beyond those 23 minutes, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said, as multiple law enforcement agencies are at work to investigate the threats and hold the unidentified pranksters — and potentially their parents — accountable for what he considers an act of terrorism.

Staly said in a phone interview with the Observer that it’s unclear whether the instigator of the May 16 lockdown is the same party as the one who caused the other lockdowns. 

Multiple schools throughout Flagler County received threatening phone calls on May 15, resulting in lockdowns and an increased law enforcement presence on school grounds.

Buddy Taylor Middle School, Wadsworth Elementary School, Old Kings Elementary School, First Baptist Christian Academy and Suncoast Community School were all involved in the anonymous swatting calls received throughout the day, according to various social media posts from the Flagler County Sheriff's Office and Flagler Schools. Just before 7 a.m. May 15, Buddy Taylor Middle School received an anonymous phone call threatening to kill everyone at BTMS. 

“We’re working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” Staly said on May 16. He added: “We’re not the only county receiving these calls.”

Social media posts indicate that some parents are keeping their children home from school. Flagler Schools Communications Coordinator Don Foley said all tardies and absences today are excused. As some parents attempted to drop their kids off at school, and then saw that there was law enforcement presence, some parents decided to take their kids back home. Even though the lockdowns were lifted quickly, it was still too late for parents to adjust and return to the school, due to the parents’ work schedules. Therefore, the administration decided to excuse absences.

Communication was also problematic. The typical robo calls that are used to communicate with parents had a “glitch” on May 16, Foley said, and the calls went through without any message attached. When he saw that was the case, Foley said, the district sent messages via email and text. The contact info for parents is the same as the contact that was given to the district at the time of the student’s enrollment.

“I totally understand the fear and concern of parents,” Staly said to the Observer May 16. As far as the decision to keep kids home from school, he said, “They’ll have to make that decision themselves. What I can tell you is that we’re doing everything that we can to ensure all our schools are safe, and it’s a prime example of why you need deputy sheriffs and school resource officers at every campus.

“When we get these threats, we take everyone seriously,” Staly continued. “We have about eight or nine units, plus school resource deputies, plus an explosive detection K9 [involved]. We take all this seriously, and hopefully we can catch this person who’s doing this. 

"Not only will we charge them with a felony count for every incident, but we will go after them civilly for the cost of responding to the calls. You’re responsible. We’re talking about thousands of dollars each time for that. So there’s got to be some accountability. I had investigators out till midnight last night following leads. We’re not talking about anything inexpensive.”

Staly equated the calls to terrorism.

“You have to take every call seriously until you prove otherwise,” he said. “The one time you don’t is the one time something happens. This is a school terrorist. So what’s going on is law enforcement has to be correct 100% of the time. But a terrorist only has to be right one time. We don’t have a choice but to take it seriously. And we always will.

“The biggest fear that any school administrator should have is apathy, Staly continued. “‘Oh, another false alarm.’ It’s like the alarm you get at a bank indicating a hold up: 99% of the time, that’s a system error. But the one time you don’t handle it as a bank robbery in progress is the one time that you as a law enforcement officer get in a shootout because it turns out it was, so you can’t have apathy at all.”

Technology has made it extremely difficult to investigate these cases, Staly said. But, FCSO is working with FDLE closely and is reaching out to the FBI for help as well.


Latest News


Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning local news.