Johnston High locked down, student arrested, school dismissed early following two separate threat investigations


Johnston High School went into lockdown this morning after a student allegedly threatened to “shoot up the school.”

“On Thursday, Oct. 28, the Johnston Police Department arrested a juvenile male student at Johnston Senior High School following an investigation into threats made at the school,” according to a statement provided by Johnston Police Chief Joseph P. Razza.

School officials and police actually investigated two separate incidents at the school Thursday, and determined they were unrelated and likely not credible, according to Johnston Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr.

“The first incident occurred early this morning,” DiLullo said Thursday afternoon. “A student told one of his classmates that he was going to shoot up the school.”

School resource officer Louis Cotoia was alerted to the situation and took the student into custody. Cotoia, a six-year veteran of the Johnston Police Department, has been assigned to the high school since the start of the school year.

“Officer Cotoia took the student into custody, and the police charged him with, I believe, disorderly conduct,” DiLullo said.

Cotoia is known throughout the school as “Coach Lou” since he also serves as an assistant football coach. He also visits the town’s other schools, regularly providing school safety information and serving as a resource for students on topics like bullying and social media safety.

“The student was in school when the threats were made,” DiLullo said. “He was apprehended in the school by the school resource office.”

DiLullo said the incident happened in the first 90 minutes of the school day, not long after students reported to school at 7:17 a.m. The school was locked down by 9:45 a.m., when an announcement was made over the school’s public address system.

“Johnston Senior High School was placed into lockdown Thursday morning after verbal threats were made by the student at the school,” according to Johnston Police. “An investigation was conducted, and it was found that the student’s threats were not credible and unsubstantiated.”

DiLullo said both Johnston Police and Rhode Island State Police investigated Thursday morning’s incidents.

The student who allegedly made the initial verbal threat “was removed from the school by police, arrested, and charged with disorderly conduct,” according to Johnston Police. “He was eventually released to the custody of his parents.”

By the time the school was in lockdown, school administrators were informed of a separate threat discovered by students on social media.

“A student informed the principal and showed her a text that had been sent around to several other students,” DiLullo explained. “In light of the other incident, it was taken very seriously. The message, which I believe was posted on SnapChat, appeared to be an individual threatening to come in and shoot up the schools and shoot four administrators. After discussing it with police, the threat appeared to be text that has been traveling around a number of high schools in several states.”

State Police brought a bomb and gun-sniffing K-9 officer to the school, but no firearms or explosives were discovered, DiLullo said.

“There was no physical evidence found of any danger to the students or faculty of the school,” according to Johnston Police. “The school was deemed safe and taken out of lockdown.”

After lockdown, police investigated the threatening post that had been shared with administrators.

“Later Thursday morning, a threatening social media post was discovered and brought to the school’s attention,” according to Johnston Police. “Out of abundance of caution, a decision was made by the Johnston School Department to dismiss the high school students at 10 a.m. Again, this threat was deemed not credible and unsubstantiated.”

According to DiLullo and Razza, the incidents only affected the high school.

“The school administration has informed us the student who made the threats will not be in attendance and faces disciplinary sanctions,” according to Johnston Police.

DiLullo said this is the first threatening incident of this type to occur in Johnston Schools in about three years.

Last Wednesday evening, the School Committee, DiLullo and the town’s legal counsel discussed the district’s Emergency Response Plan in executive session.

The plan was successfully followed Thursday, and DiLullo expressed gratitude to everyone who helped make the school’s response to the morning’s “crises” run fairly smoothly, despite the stressful situation.

Students and faculty practice lockdown drills at least twice each year.

DiLullo informed parents of the situation via phone and email, using the School Messenger system.

“I just want to thank the parents and the students,” DiLullo said. “They helped with a very orderly dismissal. And I’d like to thank the Johnston Police Department and the State Police for their quick response. Also, the administrators and the teachers kept a calm environment, during the crisis.”

DiLullo said that safety in Johnston Schools is “the highest priority” of his administration.

He also said that students did what they should always do when they learn of threatening behavior.

“Not only if students hear something, but if they see something in writing, or online, tell us right away so we can investigate,” DiLullo said.

“There were no threats made to any other school in Johnston,” according to Johnston Police. “Johnston Senior High School is scheduled to resume all activities tomorrow.”


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