Two Marshall High School students could face up to 20 years in prison after their arraignment Thursday on charges they threatened the school district.
The 16-year-old boys, Marcus Ortwine of Albion and Glenn Deuster of Fredonia Township, were arraigned by Calhoun County Juvenile Court Attorney/Referee David Makled on Thursday afternoon after their arrests late Wednesday.
Investigators said Thursday they seized 34 guns when they searched the homes of the two boys after learning of threats they made on Instagram.
The boys are charged with making a false report or threat of terrorism and using the Internet to commit terrorism after prosecutors said they threatened students and staff at the school. Each was pictured holding a firearm, Marshall Police Chief Jim Schwartz said.
The Marshall incident was one of four threats made against Calhoun County school districts since Sunday, including the most recent at Pennfield Middle School. Another threat was made last week at Galesburg-Augusta schools.
At 1:23 p.m. Thursday, the Calhoun County Sheriff Department was notified that a Pennfield eighth-grade student, who was not at school, made what was considered a threat over social media. The school was placed in lockdown for about 25 minutes.
Sheriff Matt Saxton said the student posted a picture of an assault rifle on Instagram and wrote that his mother made him stop playing a video game. Then he wrote, "I will just play Call of Duty at school."
Deputies found the student at a residence on 22nd Street. He told deputies the post was just a joke, Saxton said. The boy was taken into custody and the investigation is continuing. Saxton said deputies didn't immediately know if the youngster had access to the rifle or if he posted a picture he obtained on the Internet.
Pennfield students were dismissed from school at their regular times.
Prosecutors also said they have issued a charge against a 16-year-old Harper Creek girl who allegedly left a handwritten bomb threat in a high school bathroom Monday afternoon.
She is facing a charge of making a false report or threat of terrorism and also faces up to 20 years in prison.
In court Thursday, the Marshall High School boys and their parents appeared separately by video link from the Calhoun County Juvenile Home, where the boys are being held.
Prosecutors will seek to try them as adults, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Dan Buscher said earlier. A judge will decide whether that will happen after an evaluation of the alleged crime and other factors including psychological evaluations. If there is a conviction, the court could sentence them in the juvenile system or the adult system or blend a sentence.
"It gives everyone discretion," Buscher said. "We don't know enough about the young people yet to know what is best."
Makled read the charges against each and then scheduled the hearings to continue on April 14. He set bond for each at $7,500 cash. If they are released, they will be confined to their homes, placed on an electronic tether and ordered to stay away from Marshall schools and each other and off social media.
Ortwine and his parents asked for a court-appointed attorney. Deuster and his parents appeared with his attorney, Aaron Bartell of Marshall.
Authorities said they learned of the threats toward Marshall schools about 8 p.m. Wednesday when a parent noticed the posts and contacted Marshall High School Principal Scott Hutchins, who contacted the Marshall police officer assigned to the schools, Rebecca Ivey. She then contacted the police department.
The pictures of the two young men each holding a long gun were accompanied by words including "School will be interesting tomorrow" and "#RIPMHS".
Because both students lived outside the City of Marshall, Schwartz said the Major Crimes Task Force was activated and the sheriff department took the lead in the investigation.
"We had real concerns about what was posted," Schwartz said. "It was not like anonymous threats. We felt we had to find these individuals sooner than later. It was more than just an idle threat."
Officers found both students and then obtained search warrants for their homes.
Although both boys are part of hunting families, authorities said they found 20 guns at Deuster's home and 14 at Ortwine's. Most were shotguns, with a few rifles and four handguns, one of them an antique, said Saxton.
"The concern was that the students made the threats and did have access to the firearms," Saxton said. "The concern was they made the threat and they had access to firearms so the potential was concerning."
Investigators also seized cell phones and computers, Saxton said, and will be searching them to determine if anyone else was involved and if the two boys had done any planning of an attack.
In a post on Instagram that authorities were reviewing, a user that appeared to be Deuster wrote "me and Marcus would like to apologize for scaring anyone. It was a joke that was horrible and not funny and it went south really fast and we didn't realize that this would happen. We have no intention of doing any horrible acts at school."
The first threat for local districts was made Sunday night when a bomb threat toward Lakeview schools was suggested on the Facebook page of a 12-year-old girl.
Battle Creek police said Wednesday they are continuing their investigation because several people may have had access to the girl's password. Police have a search warrant seeking information from Facebook.
Lakeview schools were already closed Monday when the Harper Creek threat was discovered in the afternoon on a note in a bathroom. A tip led Emmett Township officers to the girl and charges against her were issued Thursday.
In Galesburg, a 14-year-old boy was identified as responsible for a March 24 bomb threat at Galesburg-Augusta High School. That case has been referred to the Kalamazoo County prosecutor.
In all the Calhoun County cases, tips led school officials and police to suspects, Saxton and Schwartz said.
"In all of the incidents," Saxton said, "it came either to the school district or law enforcement because someone saw something and someone said something."
And Schwartz vowed that all threats would be investigated.
"Students have a right to learn and have a right to go in and be safe. They are there to learn and not be intimidated."
Contact Trace Christenson at 966-0685 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @TSChristenson