A 19-year-old responsible for causing a lockdown — and quite a panic — at a Mount Pearl high school last year has been given to a two-month jail term, with a year’s probation.
Rodney Squibb was sentenced today in provincial court in St. John’s.
He pleaded guilty to several charges, including mischief by interfering with property and a number of counts of breaching court orders.
Squibb was credited 51 days for the time he’s spent in custody, meaning he’ll be freed in nine days.
He was arrested on May 8, 2013, after he sent what was considered a threatening text message to a female student at O’Donel High School.
“In your school with a gun,” he wrote in the text message at around 10:50 a.m. that day.
The female student — his ex-girlfriend — initially didn’t take the message seriously.
“Ha ha!” she replied.
“Fun times,” she wrote back in a second reply, before writing, “Why would you say that?”
The girl informed a school guidance counsellor and administrators, who immediately called police.
The principal, Michelle Clemens, and staff opted to lock the school as a precautionary measure and had teachers watching all entrances and exits in the school. All classes were also locked.
RNC officers searched the school for Squibb, but could not find him. Students had told teachers they had seen Squibb in the tunnels near the school earlier that day.
Clemens then alerted three neighbouring schools — St. Peter’s Elementary, Mount Pearl Intermediate and Mount Pearl Senior High — which also locked their doors as a precautionary measure. Clemens had suggested the schools keep their students inside during the lunch hour.
The secure schools protocol remained in place for about 40 minutes, after which normal classroom activities resumed.
That’s after police spotted Squibb with another male on O’Donel’s parking lot. They had sent him a text message stating they were looking for him. He was taken into custody.
Squibb told officers the text message was only meant as a joke and that he didn’t intent to bring a gun into the school.
Defence lawyer Candace Summers told the court today that Squibb had an older flip phone, which inadvertently turned off when he put it in his pocket. As a result, he didn’t receive the girl’s reply.
“If he had, this incident would not have happened,” she said.
She said, “It was just a very stupid mistake he made.”
But the incident was enough to cause quite a fuss in the school community.
“I was in a position of having to deal with one of the most frightening situations that any school principal can face,” Clemens wrote in her victim impact statement.
“Thoughts of Columbine and the Montreal massacre of women came to mind. I felt I had a young woman’s life to protect and very possibly many others.”
She said the security measures and having police in the school alarmed students.
“I felt the anxiety in the building was increasing rapidly …,” she wrote. “Students saw the police cars, hear and saw officers with weapons drawn.
“I was worried about the effects on everyone. Mental battles about whether I was making all the correct decisions. …
“That morning, I dealt with students, teachers, police, district staff, media and government. This was all very stressful.”
Clemens said she lost sleep over the incident, worrying about the mental health of the students and staff.
“The school was on edge that day …” she said.
“The impact of this event was felt by myself and many others for days.”
The sentence was an agreed recommendation from Summers and Crown prosecutor Phyllis Harris.
Harris pointed out that Squibb, who lives at a shelter, has no prior criminal record, but “caused quite a fuss” at the school.
“His actions did have an impact on people,” she said.
Judge David Orr agreed.
“You can imagine the situation the school principal found herself in,” Orr said.
He said Squibb’s “prank” was a “thoughtless action” and that he should have expected that kind of reaction, as no one had any way of knowing he hadn’t intended to do anything wrong.
“It was a thoughtless action of someone who didn’t foresee the affect would have,” Orr said. “But when threats are made, deterrence has to be the principle factor in sentencing.”
As part of the sentence, Squibb was ordered to have no contact with the girl whom he sent the text message and to stay away from the school.