“We dodged a bullet. I truly mean that,” Trussville, Alabama, Mayor Buddy Choat said at a press conference Tuesday morning.
The statement was made in response to a notebook belonging to a student from Hewitt-Trussville High School. According to city officials, it contained the names of 37 Trussville students that allegedly he wanted to kill—thus its label, the “death notebook.”
Trussville Police Chief Eric Rush said the student got the idea for the notebook from a television show called Death Note. In the series, the main character kills his enemies by simply writing their names in a book.
On Friday, Sept. 16, Choat was informed of a threat that had been made by the student to allegedly “do harm at the school.” Police searched the student’s home and only found a handgun belonging to the father. He was charged with a felony but the case was dropped, according to an Alabama law on terroristic threats. According to Rush, the law implies that the incident must disrupt school for it to qualify as a terroristic threat.
However, what Choat finds most unacceptable is the fact that at least three school staff members were aware of the notebook for nearly a year and neglected to report it. One of the three was Tim Salem, the school’s principal, who was immediately placed on administrative leave, according to an email sent to parents Tuesday.
He said the notebook was first uncovered on Oct. 21, 2021, by a student who subsequently notified a teacher. The teacher reported it to the school’s counselor, who then turned over the notebook to Salem.
Since then, the notebook had been kept in Salem’s office, according to officials. He finally realized it was a mistake after the most recent threat was made. “Everything was in place to handle this properly, but it was just a total lack of communication, or an unwillingness and a judgment call that was admitted to have been a mistake,” said Choat.
Parents received no direct communication from the school about the incident until after it happened, when Superintendent Pattie Neill released a statement Monday evening to reporters.
“In hindsight, the SRO and central office administration should have been made aware of this book and TV series so the threat assessment protocol could be fully implemented,” she said in a statement. “We understand that parents are concerned, we understand their disappointment and we are committed to improvement. School safety continues to be our first priority.”
During a Trussville City Council meeting Tuesday night, parents expressed their concerns over the school’s “mismanagement” of the incident.
“Our lives have been turned upside down,” said one mother whose son’s name was listed in the notebook. “Every time that there is a loud noise… we are in terror in our house. We don’t sleep; we’ve had no rest.”
Another parent whose child attends a class with the student who owned the notebook said the school has a “moral obligation to keep our children safe.”
“The next time you gather with parents and students, you don’t want it to be at a funeral.”
The student in question was reportedly transferred to an alternative school for 20 days and is receiving counseling. However, there’s a chance he may be able to return to school. Parents overwhelmingly agree that he should not be allowed back into the school.
“If that child returns to that school, my child will not return,” one parent said during the meeting. “I will not risk my child’s life.”
The student’s identity has not been released because he is a juvenile and the case is still pending.