Last weekend a fake school shooting was cancelled to avoid a real one, but the bigger story is the misrepresentation by local officials. The Pottawattamie County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) cancelled a planned training drill at the Treynor Community School District due to a threat left on the school’s voicemail.
Sheriff Danker told The Iowa Republican (TIR) that the Ohio caller left school officials a profanity-riddled message telling them to stay home because “the shooting scenario was actually going to take place for real.” Though Jeff Theulen, the EMA Coordinator, had issued a statement referencing more then one threat, Danker stated his office was only aware of the single threat left on the voicemail.
The drill had gained nationwide attention because the antagonist of the mock school shooting was an anti-immigration gun enthusiast. According to the exercise plan for Operation Closed Campus: “In the past 6 months, the City of Treynor and Treynor Community School District has received a significant influx of minority residents…that has sparked…racial tensions with a few embedded, typically silent, white supremacy affiliates.”
The primary suspect is Timothy Jasper, a white, 18-year-old high school senior who “lives in isolated rural area in Treynor School District…The student has been seen with anti-immigration demonstrators and community rumors indicate a violent, quick-tempered father with ties to an underground white supremacy group…The family is known to be firearm enthusiasts, if not fanatics.”
The Pottawattamie EMA has claimed that the scenario was not politically motivated, arguing that it was necessary “to define this FICTITIOUS INCIDENT as a domestic terrorism event” in order to get funding from the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
But records obtained from the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department (HSEMD) reveal a different story. The Pottawattamie EMA never submitted a grant request to DHS for any terrorism training. Rather, the HSEMD submitted a 136-page grant application to DHS for, among many other things, the “development of exercises that challenge, test knowledge, skills, plans and abilities of personnel and organizations.”
HSEMD planned to hold three exercises by the end of this year, and provided HSEMD Region IV, which includes Pottawattamie County, $6,000 to “conduct a full-scale or functional WMD, mass fatality, and/or mass casualty exercise. Four counties will exercise, the other 14 counties will provide victims evaluations” as well as exercise direction and planning assistance.
According to HSEMD’s work plan, the initial exercise planning conference wasn’t supposed to be held until July, with the actual exercise taking place by November. Why, then, did Region IV jump the gun? Because Pottawattamie had already planned the mock school shooting as a county-only training drill and was keenly interested in getting the $6,000 to pay for gas and over-time pay.
But HSEMD wasn’t convinced. In an internal email, the grant officer wrote: “Bottom Line: There wasn’t enough information to convince me that this supports regional objectives v. those of a scheduled county exercise. If grant funding is sought for this, there needs to be clarification of that, as well as what specific costs to fund and confirmation that the costs aren’t otherwise locally funded.”
Though TIR was able to obtain records from HSEMD within a day, an entire week has passed without similar cooperation from Pottawattamie. EMA Coordinator Theulen first ignored TIR’s Freedom of Information Act requests, then he said that TIR could only view the material in person, then he said he didn’t have the documents, then finally he said he would refer our request to the County Attorney’s Office, who in turn have yet to respond.
Despite Theulen’s belligerence, however, the evidence obtained by TIR shows that the Pottawattamie EMA office greatly exaggerated the number of threats, misrepresented the planning for the drill, and falsely stated that the exercise had to be a “domestic terrorism event.” Why?
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