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The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

Wootton threat highlights value of mental health wellness

Photo courtsey of MOCO 360
MCPD responding to an incident at Wootton HS. The recent violence threats have left many in the community distressed.

On April 17, 2024, 18-year-old student Alex Ye, a student at Wootton High School, was arrested and charged with making threats of mass violence. In today’s world, incidents like these are increasingly common. Four months into 2024, there have been 18 reported school shootings this year alone, raising questions as to what can be done to prevent acts of violence in schools.  

Ye wrote a 129-page manifesto detailing his desire to “shoot up” Wootton. In the document referred to as his “memoir,” Ye outlined his plans to pick classrooms that were easy targets and considered shooting up an elementary school. Ye described a desire to to be famous and “even infamous.” Following this discovery, he is currently awaiting a bond hearing while being detained at the Montgomery County Central Processing Unit. 

“[Situations like these] are what we worry about as administrators,” WCHS Principal John Taylor said. “When I heard about what happened at Wootton, I knew how difficult of a situation that is, and how hard it can be to deal with those threats. I knew the staff and students would be going through a lot emotionally.”

Despite the claim that Ye’s manifesto was fictional, with the preface stating “this is not a threat of violence, nor does it represent the author’s beliefs,” his friend, who alerted the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) on March 3 after gaining access to the document, noticed significant similarities between Ye and the main character in the manifesto, James Wang. Both experienced bullying as transgender individuals in school. This situation highlights the importance of speaking out to prevent students from being able to carry out these actions. 

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“Students play a vital role in preventing these kinds of incidents,” WCHS senior Chiara Gancayo said. “By paying attention to the signs and speaking up, we can stop tragedies before they happen. Students have the responsibility to look after their friends and report any suspicious behavior.”

Following Ye’s arrest, police searched his house, phone and email, discovering disturbing messages sent on social media and internet searches for mass shootings. However, there was no evidence that Ye possessed any weapons.

“Unfortunately in this day and age, it’s so easy to get ahold of some kind of weapon,” Taylor said. “Responding as if they do have a weapon is one of our protocols. Typically, police go and check the home for guns, which helps us determine what level of threat it is; but we have to respond as if it’s a real threat because it is.” 

Court documents detail the teenager’s history of psychiatric treatment for homicidal and suicidal thoughts, including hospitalizations in December 2022 and subsequent months. Following the report of Ye’s manifesto, he was hospitalized again, where hospital staff then notified MCPS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This underscores the significance of establishing mental health programs and support for struggling students. 

“Things like our Bridge to Wellness program and having a social worker in schools have been a huge help,” Taylor said. “When students begin to struggle, we can pair them up with a trained professional in the building. Their experience allows them to give us guidance about what is a normal mental struggle and what is abnormal and needs to be addressed more proactively.”

Furthermore, keeping school campuses safe is a top priority in MCPS. Although Ye is enrolled in a virtual program and has not physically attended an MCPS school since the fall of 2022, it is still crucial for security personnel to be vigilant in these situations. Police have reported that there are now heightened security measures at Wootton. 

“Him not physically attending school doesn’t change the magnitude of the situation,” WCHS Security Assistant John Martin said. “Any threats directed to students or staff at the school should be taken very seriously. The fact that he hadn’t been at school for so long is concerning for his health and wellbeing. Anyone posing a threat deserves to be dealt with by the law.”

This situation also highlights the importance of collaboration between MCPS and the MCPD to properly identify and handle potential threats. In response to Ye’s arrest, some have advocated for the reinstatement of School Resource Officers (SROs), whom MCPS transitioned away from having in schools full-time in 2021. Currently, community engagement officers are in place, and SROs respond when necessary. 

“MCPS and the MCPD work as a unit,” Martin said. “Our SROs are no more than about two miles away and can usually get to our school within two minutes after being notified. The MCPD relies on us for school information and we rely on them for what’s going on off campus.”

At the end of the day, addressing security threats involve the corporation of the school, administration, police and students. As Ye’s legal decision awaits, it is important to remember that guaranteeing safety is a collective effort, requiring vigilance, communication and support. 

“I do think it is a balance,” Taylor said. “We want people to feel welcome in school but we also want to keep it safe. We are constantly balancing security versus feeling welcome, and I think it can be both. Making the school feel safe includes having security measures. When people know that the building is secure, they are more likely to speak up and reach out for help.”

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About the Contributor
Caroline Harless
Caroline Harless, News Editor
Caroline Harless is a senior and the News Editor for the Observer. In her free time, she likes to bake, hang out with friends and watch Netflix. This is her fourth year taking journalism.  

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