A Michigan art teacher has been criminally charged after she allegedly left threatening notes around her middle school, raising alarm amid heightened fears of school violence, WXYZ-TV reports.
Authorities say 59-year-old Johnna Rhone on Friday placed hand-written notes under the doors of a classroom, library and media center at Jefferson Middle School in St. Clair Shores, a northern Detroit suburb.
One of the notes allegedly reads: “Start break early. He’s gonna do it. Just don’t be in the hall after lunch. Boom, get it?,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
Macomb County Prosecutor Pete Lucido said he believes the meaning of the note is clear.
“I only read things like this and it has one plain straightforward meaning,” Lucido told reporters at a news conference, according to the newspaper.
“I wouldn’t want to be around the school nor would I want my own child or children to be around that school. And I don’t think any parent would want their kid around the school when somebody is making a threat of that nature. We are all on high alert.”
“These are unprecedented times with unprecedented things that are happening.”
Even though surveillance video allegedly recorded Rhone distributing the notes, she appeared to deny the allegations, uttering “not true, not true, not true” during her arraignment on Monday, the television station reports.
Rhone was not cooperative when she was arrested and did not give a statement to investigators, according to the television station.
The incident comes three weeks after the school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, that left four students dead and eight others injured. Since then, nearly 100 minors in metropolitan Detroit have been accused of making copycat threats. Rhone is the first teacher accused of making threats.
Lucido told journalists that he could not explain what motivated Rhone to allegedly write the notes.
“The reality is, I can expect something like this (from) a child, not an adult,” Lucido told reporters, according to the newspaper. “I can expect something like this as it relates to somebody either crying out for help, somebody who’s maybe desperate, somebody who wants a day off.
“But I don’t have a crystal ball to give you an exact answer as to why some adult who’s in supervision and control (of) our children in classrooms would even think about doing something like this.”
No weapons were found at Rhone’s home and the school did not cancel classes.
Rhone has been charged with one felony count of making a false threat of terrorism, to which she has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison, WDIV-TV reports.
A judge set bond at 10 percent of $75,000. If she posts bond, she will be confined to house arrest with GPS tracking as her case proceeds. She also must undergo psychological testing and is barred from contacting anyone at the school.
Her defense attorney, Andrew Leone, told the court that his client has no criminal record and “seems shocked” by the allegations. He told reporters that Rhone “looks forward to defending herself,” the Detroit News reports.
Authorities have not detailed the contents of the other two notes, and Lucido, the prosecutor, would not discuss the other notes with reporters at the press conference.
As to whether the situation could be a misunderstanding, Lucido told reporters, “I can’t answer that question. Only she can show us how it’s a misunderstanding,” according to the television station.
Rhone has never been the subject of any serious concerns or complaints during her 21-year tenure at the school, according to the Free Press, citing a statement from Lakeview Public Schools Superintendent Karl Paulson. School leaders have placed Rhone on administrative leave.
“This alleged behavior is unacceptable and disappointing,” Paulson said, according to the newspaper. “Lakeview is committed to providing a quality education for the students and families of our community.”
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[Featured image: Johnna Rhone/St. Clair Shores Police Department]