An 18-year-old student at Williamsville South High School has been arrested in connection with a death threat against another student and his friends in an incident that triggered the district's post-Columbine emergency response mode for the second time in recent months, police said Friday.
Ian D. Bates, a senior, was charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, a misdemeanor, and felony criminal mischief, said Amherst Assistant Police Chief Ronald H. Hagelberger.
Hagelberger said bail was set at $1,500 cash, or $5,000 if bonded, and Bates was remanded to the Erie County Holding Center. A trial date was set for Jan. 31.
Hagelberger said the threat appeared to stem from a disagreement between the two students, but police were unsure whether the incident was racially motivated, as was originally thought. The student who was threatened is Asian American.
Hagelberger said the case is not being classified as a hate crime, but that the department "is not going to totally disregard the racial implications involved."
He said police will monitor the case before making a final determination on the racial issue.
"There was a misunderstanding," he said. "People don't get along. We've all gone through that at high school." Hagelberger had no details about the disagreement or the investigation itself. However, Williamsville South Principal Elvin Simmons said that Bates confessed.
Meanwhile, relieved school officials ended the heightened security prompted by the threat. The measures included locking school doors from the outside, stationing police at some entrances and adding security guards at night when the school is used for community functions.
Simmons said the district already has started disciplinary proceedings against Bates. Those will include a superintendent's hearing and, most likely, suspension.
"Any threat is taken seriously," he said. "The safety of our students and staff is paramount."
The incident started after the student's blue Honda Civic was stolen from the school parking lot late last week. A "computer-generated" note taped to a school door told him the car was in a nearby parking lot, where it was found with the seats slashed and the body spray painted.
A note inside threatened to "kill you and shoot you in the head" either before or by Thursday of this week and threatened "boys from South" High School. It also included a racial slur against Asian Americans.
According to police sources, Bates shared a locker with the student who was threatened and allegedly took his car keys a day or two prior to the incident and had a duplicate key made at a Williamsville hardware store. Police said he used the key to take the student's car.
In November, a bus driver's claim that she was threatened by a gun-wielding teen-ager prompted a districtwide alert, which included locker searches, book-bag frisks, helicopter flyovers and detectives with bloodhounds combing fields and wooded areas. The driver later said she fabricated the story, and charges are pending.