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Loyola closes campus due to online threats made to school security

27 Jan 2017

By Ben Donohoe & Kevin Kim

On Wed., Jan. 11, Loyola High School’s administration closed the school due to anonymous threats made on the social media site 4chan.

The previous day, a 4chan user informed the FBI of a threat made against a nonspecific “loyola high” teacher somewhere in the United States or Canada. Angry about a grade received, the user threatened to harm the teacher on Wednesday. The FBI informed the school of the threat.

Loyola’s Information Technology Services (ITS) department initiated its incident response plan to determine whether the threat posed any danger to the school. Lauren Lampietti, Chief Technology Officer, said that the department ensured that the site was blocked by the content filter and verified whether anyone on campus tried to access the site.

The administration decided to close school when concerns that someone on campus tried to access 4chan arose. Daniel Annarelli, Dean of Men, said, “What prompted us to close the school was the IT concern that someone on the Loyola H.S. campus may have attempted to access 4chan, but before this, we were not necessarily prompted to close campus.”

LAPD officers and Loyola security staff made frequent searches and patrols to ensure Loyola’s safety and look for potential threats. Abel Galarza, Head of Security, said, “Even during the chaos of the day, the security team and LAPD worked well together while we scoped through the campus, and I believe we did a great job in staying calm and ensuring everyone’s safety. IT also did lots of work behind the scenes.”

The IT department later determined that the threat did not come from on campus, and the administration made plans to reopen the school the following day.

Students looking for the threat on social media sites found a post on Reddit that specifically referenced Loyola High School of Los Angeles. Students sent the administration the Reddit post when they heard about the 4chan threat. The Reddit post detailed a specific plan for an attack at Loyola High School but did not threaten to carry out the attack.

Frank Kozakowski, Principal of Loyola High School, said that he informed LAPD and the FBI of the Reddit post when students sent it to him. The IT department also investigated the Reddit post and determined that it was not posted from the campus of Loyola High School.  

After consulting with authorities, the administration determined that students could return safely to campus on Thursday. Kozakowski said that LAPD and the FBI were extremely helpful in the investigation. “LAPD and the FBI are outstanding. Absolutely outstanding,” he said.

Kozakowski said that he would not hesitate to close school to protect students. “If we thought that anyone was in danger, we would not be here. If the FBI or LAPD said this [situation] has taken a turn, we would cancel school without blinking an eye,” he said.

The Rev. Fr. Greg Goethals, S.J. ‘73, President of Loyola High School, agreed with Kozakowski on the importance of the safety. “Through our hard work and communication, we achieved our number one priority—safety,” Goethals said.

The administration addressed students and faculty on Thursday morning. Students assembled in Xavier Center, and faculty members gathered in Leavey Gymnasium.

Some students shared concerns about the assembly given the specific nature of the Reddit post and the posting of the assembly on the Loyola website.

Annarelli said, “I completely understand the logic and concern of students being grouped into Xavier Center a day after the series of chaos and threats. However, we did have three armed LAPD officers, so in terms of immediate safety, we were fine. If there was something like a bomb [threat], that would be a different story, but we felt that what we did was safe.”

Kozakowski said that the administration and security staff thoroughly examined security options for the assembly to ensure that students were safe.

The FBI’s Counterterrorism Threat Group has an ongoing investigation into the Reddit post. “It’s an ongoing, continuous investigation. I am in pretty continuous conversation with LAPD and the FBI,” he said. Kozakowski was unable to reveal any additional details of the investigation but reaffirmed that Loyola students and faculty members are safe on campus and that the FBI will carry out its investigation in full.

Kozakowski briefed the audit committee and the educational resources committee of the Board of Directors on the events.

Goethals said that faculty members are available for discussion with students. “Part of our mission and goal is Cura Personalis, and we want to make sure people feel cared for and that they belong. This is all part of the ultimate goal of safety and inclusion in a container of God’s love.”

Paul Jordan ‘88, Assistant Principal for Student Life, said that faculty members are a great resource for students who want to talk about the events. “I think it’s a great idea for students to talk with guidance figures on campus regarding any thoughts they have about the whole series of events that took place on Wednesday. I’m also aware that counselors are calling in specific, concerned students to discuss how they are doing,” he said.

Kozakowski asked Dr. Ann Holmquist, Assistant Principal for Ministry, to be available to faculty members for discussion after the threats instead of visiting Senior Service Project sites.

Goethals said that the Loyola community worked efficiently in response to the threats. “I think we did well as a community in staying calm and working with the authorities given our resources and response,” he said.

Kozakowski identified several areas for improvement, including informing nearby schools about the threats. The administration was in communication with other Loyola High Schools in North America and with other Los Angeles-based high schools, however.

Kozakowski also said that he plans to improve communication in similar situations, including changing Loyola’s text notification system. “Some faculty members got that text message and others didn’t,” Kozakowski said. “That’s something we have to get to the bottom of.”

Kozakowski plans to improve communication via Loyola’s website and more effectively notify students who take public transportation to school.

Kozakowski said that Loyola would continue to reevaluate security procedures and conduct drills. Loyola will carry out an internal evaluation of the events over the next three weeks and to meet with LAPD in late February for a vulnerability assessment regarding security. He also said that Loyola plans to work with private sector contacts on security.

Kozakowski plans to attend a seminar on Feb. 1 about threats made against LA Unified School District schools last school year. He, Annarelli and other school administrators have attended workshops on threat situations.

Annarelli said, “A big part of improving security procedures is improving how we relay information to the public. We need to communicate how prepared we are. The reality is that we are prepared—I have a lot of confidence. I don’t know if the rest of the community knows that.”

Lampietti also said that the IT department plans to work with its current security company. “After working with them through this incident, we’re going to work with them further to better handle situations like this in the future,” he said.

Kozakowski emphasized the importance of trust between students and the administration. “The thing I’m most encouraged about was the number of people—parents and students—who sent [the Reddit post] directly to me,” Kozakowski said. “That, to me, is validation that the students trust the adults here, that they saw something that just didn’t sit right and shared it with me. If you see or hear something, say something to an adult.”

Kozakowski said that the whole administration played a significant role in responding to the threats. “I couldn’t be prouder in terms of how we worked together as a team,” he said.

Overall, Kozakowski emphasized the need for transparency in discussing the events with the community. “I wanted to name websites [and] I wanted to be specific because I thought it would help lower the anxiety if we were real,” he said.

Goethals believed that the series of events that occurred on Wed., January 11th, helped solidify the Loyola community and its sense of acceptance and nurture.  

He said, “My message is that people should know that Loyola is safe. I want everyone to feel welcomed and protected and loved within Loyola’s reach. We open our doors everywhere to offer life-changing experiences and God’s embrace, and even through these chaotic events, safety is a priority no matter what.”

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