Sunday, May 27, 2018
Public safety

Anonymous letter threatens two St. John's Episcopal Parish Day School board members' kids

TAMPA — The school had expected Michele Lambert's firing to be contentious. She had been the middle school director for 14 years.

But officials at St. John's Episcopal Parish Day School, a private South Tampa school with a nearly $10,000-a-year price tag, did not anticipate the letters.

Handwritten and mailed to two members of the school's board of trustees, they landed in mid December.

Merry Christmas!

Now your children will pay the price for your actions on the BOT's.

Bullying is very hard on children — now maybe you will see just how it feels.

They will pay the price for your sins. You should be ashamed.

We will get to your kids.

The school called Tampa police. The FBI is involved.

"It's shocking, and it's sad," said school headmaster Gordon Rode. "It's unthinkable. Here we are, a Christian school."

School spokeswoman Lisa Brock said Tuesday that the school does not know who sent the letters but assumes it is someone in the St. John's community.

No one else, including the school in general, has been threatened. Still, Brock said, the timing makes the letters especially alarming.

A lone gunman went on a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. Law enforcement has since increased its presence in Hillsborough's public schools.

St. John's mimicked the county's response, posting an officer at each of the school's three campuses. Rode said the school continually reviews its security.

"This is very, very serious given the environment of the world today," Brock said. "The school is cooperating fully with law enforcement."

An email sent last month states if officials find out a parent of a St. John's student sent the letters, that family will be kicked out of the school. On Tuesday, Rode said that would be a decision he would make with the board of trustees.

Authorities are still investigating and will decide whether criminal charges are warranted.

Earlier in December, school officials got wind of dissension about Lambert's firing, which was headmaster Rode's decision, made with the board of trustees' knowledge, according to a Dec. 27 email sent by school officials.

Both Rode and Brock declined to say why Lambert was fired.

On Dec. 7, the school sent an email to parents, informing them of Lambert's departure and asking that they promote "that spirit of harmony which is always the hallmark of genuine Christian charity."

It was signed by Rode and the vice-chairman of the board of trustees, Tampa civil attorney Stephen French.

French got one of the threatening letters.

So did another board member and civil attorney, Gregory Hearing. Neither returned a reporter's calls Tuesday.

The school, which admits students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, has not experienced any security-related incidents since the letters were sent, Brock said.

Still, the headmaster evaluated the school's security plan and sent the Dec. 27 email to parents, explaining the threat. School officials want to be transparent with parents, Brock said.

In the email, the school promises to prosecute the culprit "to the full extent of the law" and asks that anyone with information call the school or Tampa police.

"It saddens me to think that someone would be that angry," Rode said. "I personally have prayed for whoever that person — or persons — are."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Editor's Note: This story has been modified from previous versions appearing online and in print. The title of a board member has been added.

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