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Harrison School moves practices, games after new threats

By KTVM Staff
Grace Ditzler, KTVM Reporter, gditzler@ktvm.com
Published On: Feb 04 2014 03:34:46 PM MST
Updated On: Feb 04 2014 11:01:30 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

A southwest Montana school is moving the location of their basketball practices and games after a student allegedly made death threats against the school, then got released from jail.

The student's reported threats are against Harrison School, south of Three Forks.
Harrison School is in a cooperative with Willow Creek School, northeast of Harrison, meaning they share the same basketball and volleyball teams, and band.

The student was arrested in January of last year after reportedly bringing two guns into the school. Court documents said he considered using them in a school shooting.

The teen admitted to the plan, then underwent mental health treatment and was put on probation.

Last December, he finished treatment and was released.

But after that, the teen allegedly made more threats. His peers reported the student claimed he plans to go through with the shooting this time and wants to blow up the entire school.

He was arrested on felony charges. NBC Montana was told the student's probation officer testified he thought the boy was a threat to the Harrison community.

However, a judge released him on Monday into the custody of his parents.

The superintendents at Harrison School and Willow Creek School both explained they are extremely concerned that the young man is back at home in Harrison, just minutes from the high school.

They said they believe the threats to the school are very real, and they are taking all the precautions possible to protect their students.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Harrison School girls basketball team drives down the windy, forty minute drive to Willow Creek School for basketball practice.

"Practices have been relocated for this week to Willow Creek," said Superintendent Fred Hofman, "and we've moved the Sheridan basketball game Friday night, which is our homecoming night, to Willow Creek."

They usually practice and host games at the Harrison gym, but Harrison Public School Superintendent Fred Hofman said they moved locations as a precaution, after a teen Hofman considers a threat to his students was released from jail on Monday.

"He's a danger to the community of Harrison," Hofman said.

Last year, the teen admitted to bringing two loaded guns to school because he was considering a school shooting.

In the past couple months, he reportedly threatened students and said he planned to bomb the school.

"It's really hard for us to blame Willow Creek for not wanting to send their kids over here," Hofman said.

The Willow Creek Superintendent explained she doesn't feel safe having her kids at Harrison.

Willow Creek and Harrison share a basketball team, and she did not want her students going there for practice or games.

So on Tuesday, the Harrison School administration got together to figure out how to move forward.

"We haven't made any decisions beyond this week, that's it, all we've done is decide what we're going to do this week," Hofman said.

For now, the Harrison Wildcat gym will stay empty after school hours, and the athletes will make the drive over to Willow Creek, in an effort to keep both the Harrison and Willow Creek students safe.

"We went through this a year ago and it was much worse a year ago," Hofman said. "This is really just a continuation of it and this latest deal yesterday in court pulled a big scab off that was just about healed."

NBC Montana also spoke to two basketball players; one attends Harrison and the at Willow Creek.

Both said they were upset by the teen's release, and are okay with practices and games being moved to Willow Creek.

The Harrison Superintendent said the teen is expected to go to a facility in Bozeman for his schooling during the day, so the school is focusing on taking precautions during after-school hours.

The Willow Creek superintendent said she plans to speak to parents of the athletes to see how they feel about their kids traveling to Harrison before moving practices back.

The following is a press release from the Harrison Public School Superintendent, Fred Hofman:

As a result of Madison County District Court Judge, Loren Tucker’s ruling on Monday, February 3, 2014, releasing a student who has been charged with a felony offense after making threats to the school in Harrison, the school has moved its February 7th game (Homecoming) against the Sheridan Panthers, to Willow Creek. 
Willow Creek Public Schools indicated a reluctance to send their students to any practices or games that might occur in Harrison.  Harrison & Willow Creek have an MHSA co-operative for Band, Volleyball and Basketball.  The Lady Wildcats are currently 14-0 and ranked 4th in the State in Girls Class C.  No decision has been made by the schools as far as next week’s events.

This same student brought a loaded .357 into the school just over a year ago.  At that time, threats were made to students, including a student from Willow Creek Public Schools.  At that time, the student stated he had intended to show you did not need an assault rifle to kill a bunch of people.  This was on the heels of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  He was taken into custody and then released on December 20th, 2013 to his parents. 

Since that time, the student was charged with a new felony following very disturbing comments made to another student in Harrison.  The comments included a threat to go through with the killings this time and that he would blow up the entire school.  The student is not attending school at Harrison and was to attend school at a day treatment program in Bozeman, although his education is still being provided by the Harrison School District. 

At the detention hearing on January 15th, 2014, held in front of a substitute judge, the sheriff’s deputy who worked on the case testified the youth ultimately admitted to making the threatening comments because “it made him feel powerful.”  At the same hearing, additional troubling comments were discussed, all of which were documented on Facebook where the youth had created a fake account in order to communicate with peers.  When asked by his peer if he was supposed to have the account, the student acknowledged he would be in trouble if he got caught.  When asked why he was doing it then, the youth indicated that “Max” does whatever “Max” wants to do, referring to his fictitious name.

The youth probation officer Sam Stockett, who has worked with the youth for nearly a year, testified on January 15th, 2013 that it was his opinion that the youth was a danger to the community of Harrison and should be detained in a jail pending further proceedings.  A bond of $75,000 was set, along with a number of conditions.
At the hearing before Judge Tucker on Monday, February 3rd, 2014, the Youth entered a plea of Not True to the allegations and then asked to have bond lowered.  Other than requesting that the bond of $75,000 remain in effect, and that the County Attorney’s office believed he posed a threat to the community, no testimony or evidence was presented by the Madison County Attorney’s office to refute the claims being made by the defense attorney.  None of the prior information was provided to the Judge.  Judge Tucker then released the youth to his parents and ordered him to attend school at the day treatment program in Bozeman.  Tucker also placed the youth on “house arrest,” meaning he could not leave his residence otherwise.  “Judge Tucker, basically grounded him, despite the youth’s history of sneaking out in the middle of the night to stalk the same girl he is still obsessed with.” – Fred Hofman, Harrison Superintendent

“As a former prosecutor, I am amazed by the lack of preparation and action by the County Attorney’s office and the Juvenile Probation office, who, frankly, collectively botched the hearing yesterday.  I am astounded as to why they have not filed a Petition to Revoke his Probation and then outline a more compelling case for confinement pending resolution of the matter, particularly in light of the probation officer’s sworn testimony on January 15th.  There is nothing preventing them from fixing this.” – Fred Hofman, Harrison Superintendent

“My staff and the victim’s parents are very upset by Judge Tucker’s decision and the unnecessary turmoil it has caused the school.  They just really can’t believe it.” – Fred Hofman, Harrison Superintendent

Sheridan’s superintendent of schools, Kim Harding, has been notified that their game in Harrison this Friday has been moved to Willow Creek.