It happened on the other side of the state, but last week's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School continues to weigh heavily on Tampa Bay area school systems.
Officials found a semiautomatic rifle in a high school parking lot in Pasco County. They investigated ominous messages on the restroom walls at two Pinellas County high schools. They locked down a Hillsborough County elementary school after someone heard something about a weapon in a backpack.
And that was only on Friday.
Earlier in the week, parents rushed to Northeast High after a false report of an active threat on Facebook. At Lakewood High, police arrested a 16-year-old student after he announced he planned an attack at the school. And Sickles High brought in extra security because of a nationally circulated Facebook threat directed at a school identified only as "SHS."
In a more peaceful turn, thousands of students across the area paid tribute their Stoneman Douglas peers by walking out of their classes at noon Wednesday for 17-minutes of silence, one for each person killed.
It was an exhausting, emotional, tide-turning week of heightened awareness, copy cat threats and inflated fears — all punctuated by the swelling momentum of a high school generation with a new sense of outrage and purpose.
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Friday began with hundreds of students refusing to show up at East Lake High, where someone discovered a threat the day before on a tile in the girls' restroom. "Careful," the scribble said. "Don't come to school Friday 2-23. You'll see why." Officials deemed the threat "low level" and not credible, and increased law enforcement presence. Still, the number of absentees soared to 831 students, or 40 percent of the school, up from 247 the week before.
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A short time later, an administrator at Dade City's Pasco High was conducting a routine sweep of the parking lot when he spotted shell casings in a truck bed. Through the window he saw a case in the passenger seat and summoned the truck's owner, 18-year-old senior Dillon Nathanial Xynides. In the case, officials found an AR-15 he had purchased a day earlier to use for hog hunting, school district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.
Xynides was arrested on a charge of possessing a weapon at a school, a third-degree felony. By all accounts he is a "very good young man," police said.But Cobbe said "there is no reason and no excuse to bring any weapon, let alone an assault weapon, on a school property, especially in light of the shooting in South Florida barely a week ago."
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Also on Friday, a student walked into a boys' restroom at Osceola Fundamental High and found a vague message scrawled on the wall: "Watch out! Today at fifth period he's coming." Students shared it on social media.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office investigated and found "no credible threat." No one was arrested, but deputies performed extra patrols around the school. "We remain diligent about school safety and appreciate any information that students, staff or the community share with us," principal Mike Bohnet said in a message to parents.
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At Seffner Elementary, home of the Mustangs, principal Shelly Hermann called parents with her own Friday message: "We went into a lockdown just a short time ago, when a student said they believed another student may have a weapon in their backpack. Our school resource deputy and school security immediately identified the student and checked their backpack. There was no weapon. Law enforcement is doing a search of the campus as a precaution."
It was the second such threat this week.
The kids, Hermann explained, have a heightened sense of awareness. She thanked the one who came forward.
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Shortly after dismissal at Blake High, more than 100 students marched from their school to downtown Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park. Moved by the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High, they aimed their protest at state lawmakers.
Dozens more joined in, and the crowd swelled to about 500. They carried signs — which they worked on at school — with slogans such as "Protect kids not guns," and a vulgarity involving the National Rifle Association.
The crowd included adult supporters, politicians and political candidates. The school district has walked a fine line this week in allowing political expression while trying to maintain order.
Samantha Parker, a 15-year-old sophomore at Blake, marched with her mother, Amy Parker, 45.
"I am hoping we can pass laws and make things better," she said. "AR-15's are used on so many schools and are so easy to get, it is reckless and unsafe."
Said her mother: "I wanted her to know I was with her and supported her — and I'm carrying her backpack because that's what moms do."
Times Staff Writers Jeffrey Solochek, Marlene Sokol and Colleen Wright contributed to this report. Contact Thomas C. Tobin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ThomasCTobin.