The website at the center of the Battle Ground school threats
BATTLE GROUND, Wash. - Students in Battle Ground are back in class after threats submitted online closed several schools earlier in the week.
A 13-year-old boy has been expelled in connection with the threats and the district attorney's office is deciding whether to file a felony harassment charge against the young man.
Now, we are hearing from the teacher who first spotted one of two threatening messages that started the whole thing. Those messages were sent through a student resource website that he had created earlier this year.
By the start of 2013, the Battle Ground School District had seen seven suicides in just two years. The most recent were two young girls, Isabelle and Anna, who were eighth graders at Chief Umtuch Middle School.
Counselors were called in and crisis lines were provided, but all those well-meaning professionals could not give grieving students one thing they needed.
"The thing that lingered with my students when they saw the empty chairs in the class was that no one was really giving them something they could do," said teacher Mike Kleiner.
As Kleiner taught his class about novels and letters, he mentioned the old Dear Abby column and how answering a letter from someone who was hurting could benefit millions of people around the world.
That resonated with his students and together they began the Dear Amicus website back in April. It was a place where students could submit specific problems and concerns, and remain anonymous.
Kleiner and a guidance counselor reviewed all the submissions first and, when appropriate, asked other students to reply. Students wrote 50 replies and read 50 new perspectives.
"I saw within my classroom people you would never expect to talk to each other - from totally different ends of social spectrum - and they ended up sitting together by choice," Kleiner said.
But then this week there was a bombshell - a suicidal message came across the website.
"The police, principal, counselor and I threw out a big rope and I dragged everyone in as soon as I could," Kleiner said.
The district then spotted a second message from the same 13-year-old boy, who was threatening to use explosives and harm a staff member. The result is that schools were shut down for a day and the Dear Amicus website was put on hold indefinitely.
"Even if it stops now and it doesn't go anyplace, I've got 48 or 50 kids who reached out to other kids - 48 or 50 kids who showed the courage to write a letter asking for help," Kleiner said. "And I've got one big incident in which the person who dropped the notes is now going to get professional help."
Kleiner hopes a similar website can start again, but he said it probably could not be completely anonymous like Dear Amicus was.