Folks are obviously and understandably on edge about violence in schools these days, so when several threatening notes were found on the campus of Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, Iowa recently, authorities took them seriously.
The investigation into the threats, which were written from the point of view of a bullied student who was “tired of being made fun of,” took a sharp turn, however, when authorities discovered that it wasn’t actually a student who’d penned the threats. Instead, it was a teacher.
Council Bluffs police said an investigation into a series of anonymous handwritten notes led them to Abraham Lincoln High School teacher Katrina Phelan, 37. Police said all the notes referenced committing gun violence on school property and were found in Phelan’s classroom, or a girl’s restroom.
According to police in an affidavit, all four notes in question were either found and recovered by students in Phelan’s classroom or by Phelan herself.
The affidavit says Phelan admitted to writing three of the notes and said they were written on paper from her classroom. Police said she confirmed the handwriting on the note was hers, but couldn’t recall writing them.
Yeah, that’s right. Phelan says she doesn’t remember writing the notes, though she admits they’re in her handwriting. What’s more, she was even able to offer a potential motivation for the threats she claims not to recall.
The affidavit also states that when asked why she was writing these notes, Phelan responded by saying ‘it was out of concern, worry, and frustration over the lack of control of her classroom.’
When asked what she hoped to accomplish by writing these notes, investigators said Phelan told them maybe to bring attention to the fact that it’s ‘not a safe place.’
The good news for Phelan is that she no longer has to worry about the lack of control in her classroom. The bad news (for Phelan, anyway) is that she no longer has a classroom, because she’s been fired by the Council Bluffs public school system.
The even worse news for Phelan is that she’s facing up to five years in prison if convicted on the terroristic threats charges. Now, I doubt that prosecutors will throw the book at her, especially now that she’s no longer working in the school, but I wouldn’t be surprised if any plea deal offered to her still includes at least some jail time for sparking fear and concern among students, parents, and staff at the high school.
The big question in my mind is what was Phelan’s motivation here? I mean, I know what she told police, but frankly, her statement just doesn’t make much sense. On the surface, this looks less like a cry for help than an attempt to scare the crap out of everyone, but what was the actual end game? It certainly didn’t take long for authorities to figure out who was responsible for the notes, so either Phelan isn’t exactly a criminal mastermind, she didn’t care about being discovered, or maybe she truly doesn’t remember writing the threatening notes. And yeah, there’s a part of me that wonders if Phelan is a gun control supporter who thought she might be aiding the cause by posing as a incipient school shooter.
I’ll be very curious to see what additional evidence comes out in the weeks ahead, as well as what her attorneys will argue in court if the case ever gets that far. It’s definitely a strange story, and I suspect we don’t even know all of the details yet.