Student jailed following alleged threats at Tuscola High

It was a pretty normal Wednesday morning was for most students at Tuscola High School last week, but as the school day went on word leaked out that one second-period biology class had involved threats, a call to the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office and the arrest of 16-year-old sophomore Joseph “Joey” Jacobs. 

“He came into biology. He threatened a few kids,” said Austin Cowan, a junior at THS, who heard about the incident from other students. 

Jacobs is charged with four misdemeanor counts of communicating threats, one for each student he allegedly threatened, and one felony: making a false report of mass violence on educational property. 

“We had some students report to us in the morning, pretty early in the morning, that there was someone issuing very direct and specific threats against them,” said Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte. 

After being informed of the alleged threat, Assistant Principal Rodney Mashburn and Tommy Beck, the school resource officer, reported the incident to the sheriff’s office, went to the classroom and began talking to Jacobs. He was then taken to Haywood County Detention Center. 

“We don’t believe there is a current threat at the school based upon what I know and the steps that we’ve taken,” Nolte said. “It’s also very safe to say we were not aware of any weapons on campus or anything like that that could have contributed to a serious injury at the time that the alleged threats were made.”

The situation was handled quickly, and the school was not placed on lockdown. 

“I didn’t even know it happened till a day later,” said Stefan Emsheimer, a junior.

The school system investigates threat reports on a regular basis, Nolte said, about once a week, but they’re usually along the lines of one elementary student telling another to go away, or else. The last report of a threat of violence that resulted in an arrest occurred last April, when officers arrested 16-year-old Jonathan Tingle for telling classmates he planned to “commemorate” the shootings at Columbine High School, which occurred April 20, 1999 in Colorado. 

“The alleged threats were pretty specific and pretty serious, and we always take those at face value,” Nolte said of last week’s arrest. “Those things are never a joke. It’s never a joke to threaten harm to someone else.”

As the sheriff’s office began its investigation into the incident, the school started its own parallel investigation to decide whether any school discipline should be involved. Administrators consider threats that name specific victims and types of injuries to be inflicted to be especially serious, Nolte said, but all factors except “race, religion and gender” are part of a discipline decision. 

“We have implemented a discipline in this particular situation,” Nolte said, adding that school policy prevents him from naming what, exactly, that is. “Of course, the final discipline is always subject to any kind of due process that students and families might seek.”

Jacobs is being held at Haywood County Detention Center in lieu of a $10,000 secured bond. His first court appearance is scheduled for May 21. 

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