PORT ANGELES — A police investigation into racist, violent graffiti that warned of an April 15 mass shooting at Port Angeles High School has been closed without determining who wrote it.
The racist slur and threat of violence were found with profanity and a suicidal statement April 12 on a toilet cover dispenser in a boys’ bathroom stall, according to a Port Angeles police report of the incident release last week.
“We are confident we identified the suspect, but at the same time, there is still not enough to charge him,” Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada said.
In a police interview the student, a 15-year-old freshman, denied writing the graffiti.
His mother said the family does not keep firearms in the house “and she would not know where [he] would otherwise access one,” according to the report.
Viada said the graffiti had presented an active shooter threat at the high school.
A custodian found the graffiti the morning of April 12, Police Officer Swift Sanchez said Friday in an interview.
The police department released Sanchez’s report, which included a photo of the graffiti, in response to a Peninsula Daily News public records request.
Written on the Renown toilet-seat-cover dispenser affixed to the wall of a bathroom stall, it included a racial slur far enough away from the shooting threat that they may not have been connected, Viada said.
“The writing depicted various words and phrases including the following: “‘Big Tits,’ ‘[The N-word in capital letters],’ ‘If you’re reading this f—- you,’ ‘Die,’ ‘KMS [kill myself] on 4-14-21’ and “Shooting up the school Thursday, April 15 BE ready, better lock the school down,” Sanchez said in her report.
“The writing all appeared to be done by the same person with the same handwriting.”
The custodian saw a boy April 12 in the only stall in the bathroom wearing shorts matching those of the student identified as a suspect in school video footage.
The custodian said the toilet was plugged with toilet paper and not working.
School surveillance video footage identified the student being dropped off at school, going into the rest room and leaving 2½ hours later.
He enters the bathroom at 8:09 a.m. and leaves at 10:37 a.m.
“Multiple times people enter and immediately exit, indicating the one stall is in use,” Sanchez said in the report.
“That one student spent 2½ hours in the bathroom,” Sanchez said in an interview.
“He did not break any rules by being the bathroom that long. It’s certainly odd behavior.”
Two other students who entered the bathroom during that time were not interviewed.
“They were hard to identify because of their masks,” Sanchez said in an interview.
“Based on what I see on that footage, I believe he entered the bathroom and wrote the graffiti
“It is possible someone else wrote the graffiti, but I don’t believe that’s the case.”
The boy told Sanchez during an April 14 interview on his front porch that he was in the bathroom briefly to make a phone call.
He said he did not feel like hurting or killing himself.
Sanchez said he appeared nervous, his voice “quiet and shaky.” He asked three times to get his shoes when it was sunny and there was no need for footwear, she said.
“I believed throughout my conversation with [the student] he was being untruthful about his actions inside the bathroom,” Sanchez said in her report.
High School Principal Jeff Clark notified the police department of the graffiti April 13, a day after it was discovered and had been removed.
Clark said Friday he discussed the incident with school security supervisor Kelsey Lane.
He did not remember why he waited to report the incident to authorities.
“I don’t have an answer for you,” he said Friday. “Our policy is to remove graffiti right away just as a normal abatement. We documented it by taking a photograph.”
Viada said Sanchez and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tracey Lassus, who handles juvenile cases, worked jointly on the investigation.
“Lassus expressed concern that the threat had not been reported until the next day after it happened, and that the graffiti had been cleaned up prior to police notification,” Sanchez said in her report.
Up until the interview with the boy, “Lassus did not feel the given information was enough to constitute a criminal case,” Sanchez said in the report. Lassus directed Sanchez to interview him April 14.
Following the interview, Sanchez said the case was closed pending further information.
Viada said the case lacked a credible witness who saw the graffiti being written or who heard or spoke to the suspect.
The prosecuting attorney’s office decides whether to file charges in criminal cases.
Lassus did not return calls for comment on the case Thursday or Friday.
In a 6:02 p.m. April 14 email to parents, the district said “vandalism that included racial slurs and a threat of violence” were discovered at the high school without giving details but assuring them police believed it was not “a credible threat, and classes will continue as usual.”
Still, the graffiti led to the police department’s deployment of four officers to the campus April 15.
They swept the grounds for explosives and firearms before allowing students to enter the school, then patrolled the campus until classes ended without incident.
The graffiti writer could be charged with malicious mischief, which is a gross misdemeanor or felony based in part on monetary damage, or a hate crime offense, a Class C felony that is more difficult to prove.
The space between the slur and the shooting threat would be a factor in determining if the graffiti were a hate crime offense, a felony.
Clark said there was not enough proof that the boy wrote the graffiti to warrant disciplining him.
“At the end of the day, though we may have had suspicions, we couldn’t determine who did it,” Clark said.
“It’s all circumstantial.”
Clark said the freshman was in the stall for 2½ hours because of nervousness over his schedule.
“He had justifications that made sense for an adolescent student,” he said.
Clark said he was not overly concerned about the shooting threat.
“Since nothing happened on the target date, the conclusion was more likely that someone didn’t mean it, that it wasn’t a believable threat and was just kind of writing some stupid stuff on the wall.”
The student who made the threat would be suspended from school and referred to law enforcement, Clark said.
The use of the N-word would be racial harassment if targeted at someone and a lesser offense if not, in which case, “we would inform the parents and try to educate the student about why that is offensive,” he said.
The suspect has “zero issues” that would cause concern about his behavior, Clark said.
“He’s a typical kid.”
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].