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Graffiti threat closes Aspen schools

Charles Agar
Vail, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Kids won’t go to class Friday because of a racially motivated threat on portable bathroom wall at the Aspen Middle School construction site, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

Officials decided to close the Aspen campus ” including the high school, the middle school and the elementary school ” after workers from GE Johnson discovered the written threat of an attack to take place at 8:46 a.m. Friday.

The incident comes one week after the discovery of a message on a portable toilet warning that Latinos would be killed at 2:15 p.m. last Friday at the Base Village construction site in Snowmass Village. The threat prompted police to go on high alert, but the day passed without incident.

School officials contacted the sheriff’s office at 5 p.m. Thursday, when they first learned of the graffiti.

“It was similar in nature ” and I don’t think it was a coincidence ” to the Snowmass Village event,” said Jeff Lumsden, patrol director with the sheriff’s office.

Lumsden would not comment about the investigation, but said it was a “racially biased” posting consisting of a racially motivated threat of violence, then two additional comments by what appeared to be separate authors, he said.

Sheriff’s deputies are working with Snowmass Village police to find out whether the incidents are related.

“Anything is possible,” Lumsden said in response to a question whether the threat was a copycat warning or a prank, but the sheriff’s deputies are taking the event seriously, he added.

“All the schools will be closed … and the contractor is not going to have any work done tomorrow,” Lumsden said Thursday evening.

GE Johnson executives and school officials made the decision to shut down, Lumsden said.

“It’s a sad time that we live in that you have to worry about these things,” said Diana Sirko, superintendent of Aspen Schools. “We’re going to err on the side of caution.”

Sirko said the threat is a “rare occurrence,” and “schools are very cautious in relation to anything like this.”

Sirko said there is no racial tension on campus, adding that she meets regularly with students to talk about bullying.

“I think that one of the things I hear from the kids is they feel there’s an immense amount of respect for diversity,” Sirko said. “Our kids seem to have a great deal of respect for each other.”

While Sirko would not comment on whether the threat might be a student prank or a ploy for a day off, she stressed that officials would do all they could to reschedule the lost time.

“I just want them to know that in all likelihood this day will need to be made up,” Sirko said.

“It’s just unfortunate,” said GE Johnson construction project manager Jimmy Hopper. “This is the first time we’ve had anything like this before.”

Hopper said the closure was more of a mutual decision: “And with the sensitivity of the issue, we’re going to shut down Friday and Saturday,” Hopper said.

“Unfortunately in this day and age, you’ve got to take every threat seriously,” he added. “I don’t know how you couldn’t.”

But Hopper said it won’t set the project back at all.

“We deal with a lot of different scenarios and this is a unique one,” Hopper said. “Unfortunately this happens ” writing on Port-a-John walls ” it’s an unfortunate thing in our industry, and there’s no way to stop it.”

The sheriff’s office had no suspects Thursday, Lumsden said.


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