In wake of Sandy Hook, man's call elicits tense response; no one hurt
NORTHUMBERLAND - A man accused of threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend over a child custody dispute Thursday morning allegedly told her that he was going to retrieve their daughter from Priestley Elementary School and "do worse than what happened in Connecticut."
The threat, while never carried out, resulted in the Shikellamy School District placing all five of its buildings in lockdown for most of the day, and it led to a tense day for students, staff, parents and police.
Jeremy Michael Church, 37, of 249 W. Market St., Middleburg, who turned himself over to police shortly after the threats were made, was incarnated at Northumberland County Prison Wednesday evening in lieu of $125,000 bail.
"Anytime we would take this seriously, but with recent events, we were hypersensitive, especially since it was children," said Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini, who had requested "substantial bail" for Church.
'Kill you all'
According to an affidavit of probable
cause, Point Township Police Chief Joshua Van Kirk was dispatched at 11:27 a.m. Thursday to the elementary school, 423 Cannery Road, just outside Northumberland not far from Route 147, for threats made involving a mass casualty.
Church's ex-girlfriend Valerie Eisenhuth, of 445 Water St., Northumberland, told police she and Church had ongoing problems and that he said he was going to kill everyone at his daughter's school.
According to police, Church said: "I will (expletive) kill all you. I will kill the counselors, myself, you, and I will get (his daughter) and do what I have to to get her. No one is taking her away. I will do worse than what happened in Connecticut. (Expletive) you, my mom and everyone. I will kill you all."
Eisenhuth told police Church asked his mother for his gun (Church later refers to owning a .30-06 rifle) this past weekend for hunting. It was noted in the police report that there is no current hunting season involving rifles.
Law enforcement from Point Township, Northumberland, Shamokin Dam and Selinsgrove, state police from Selinsgrove and Milton, Northumberland County Sheriff Department and Northumberland County Adult Probation responded immediately to the school and blocked traffic on both sides of the school along Cannery Road.
Van Kirk and Northumberland Borough Patrolman Matt Lauver entered the school for an internal security sweep while the building, and other district buildings, were on full lockdown.
At the same time, other police were investigating the suspect's location. The affidavit says Church lives out of his blue Dodge Neon.
As word of the threat spread, more than two dozen parents and local residents gathered at the intersection of 16th Street and Cannery Road, within site of the school, making frequent phone calls and asking officers what was going on.
At one point shortly after noon, one man asked an officer if anything happened inside the school. The officer responded, "Not at this point."
Meanwhile, the county communications center was able to contact Church via cell phone to identify his location, but he did not cooperate until Van Kirk was patched through to talk to him.
Custody an issue
During the conversation, Church told Van Kirk that he had anger problems and "was so angry today that he could not remember anything he said," police reported.
Church confirmed he was having an argument with Eisenhuth, who he was upset with because she was refusing him custody of their daughter, police reported.
He began to recall his statements and told police he "could have used better words" and "said some things he shouldn't have."
Eventually, he told Van Kirk he was between Port Trevorton and Liverpool and was willing to meet with police at an adult book store near the intersection of Routes 35 and 11/15 at the south end of Selinsgrove in 15 minutes, on the condition an unmarked car was used.
Police took Church into custody at that location without incident.
Police units remained on scene at the school until word was received of the suspect's apprehension.
At approximately 12:20 p.m., Van Kirk, who had not left the scene, walked from the school to 16th Street and Cannery Road and motioned for the media and waiting individuals to approach him. He had a solemn look on his face, but then said, "Let me give you a smile so you know everything's OK."
He said Church, who was not identified at that time, lost his temper and made threats.
"Our police department received a report of a male who made threats to his former partner and then alleged he was going to come to the school here and repeat the acts of Newtown, that he was going to make that look like it was nothing," Van Kirk said at the scene.
"Obviously," he went on, "a statement like that warrants a response like this from law enforcement."
He said the incident was no longer active and a suspect was in custody.
"There were no injuries. The scene was secured. There was no alarm or panic within the school. They followed protocol very well and kept the children comfortable. I don't believe many of the kids knew we were in school today. Most will know sitting down when they watch television tonight," he said.
He advised the parents to allow their children to remain in school the remainder of the day because their knowledge of the incident was limited.
"Some of us (police) will remain here and get things back to normal," he said.
"I'm relieved. I was in panic mode," Marti Lee-Bogart, of Northumberland, said at the scene moments later. "I don't want anything to happen to my little girl."
Lee-Bogart is raising her 5-year-old granddaughter, Cole Toten, who is enrolled in kindergarten.
Virginia Weller, of Northumberland, is nearly a month away from adopting Abigail Young, her 9-year-old foster daughter, a third-grader.
"I'm so, so relieved," she said. "If he's going to kill anyone, kill himself, not innocent children."
Abigail's future sister, Esther Ulrich, said it was senseless of Church to get students upset and threaten a school.
"He has no right threatening them. He doesn't need to be copycatting anyone," she said.
She said the police officers were "perfect."
Lee-Bogart called Church a coward and claimed she would "beat his a--" if she ever saw him.
Emotional with police
Church was transported to Point Township Police Department, where he was originally expected to be video-arraigned by Senior Magisterial District Judge Richard Cashman of Milton. However, Cashman was not available, and Church was transported to Magisterial District Judge Benjamin Apfelbaum's office in Sunbury for arraignment instead.
At the township station, police said Church again told them he realized he said things he shouldn't have and understood why such a strong statement like his would create such concern for law enforcement and the public.
He said his statements about Connecticut were wrong, police said.
At first, he told police he didn't like guns and only carries a pocket knife, but later stated that he had a .30-06 rifle at his grandfather's house.
Police said he was emotional during the interview and stated he has been having some "substantial personal problems that led him to basically snap today."
At approximately 5:30 p.m., he appeared in front of the judge on charges of a felony count of terroristic threats to commit violence, a felony count of terroristic threats to cause public inconvenience and a misdemeanor count of terrorist threats to commit violence. The charges were filed by Van Kirk and Northumberland Borough Chief Timothy Fink.
The felony counts each have a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine, while the misdemeanor count has a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, the judge said. He asked Church if he understood the charges.
"Yes, your honor," Church said.
Apfelbaum asked if he had any questions on each charge.
Church answered, "Not at this time, your honor," to the felonies, but said he did not understand the misdemeanor.
Rosini, who was accompanied to the arraignment by Van Kirk and Fink, said the first two charges involved threats to the school and the third charge was against his ex-girlfriend.
"I understand now, your honor," Church said.
Church then asked how he was supposed to find an attorney if he was going to be incarnated. Apfelbaum said he could fill out the paperwork for a public defender or contact a private attorney through a phone call or a letter.
Last delivered pizza
Apfelbaum then asked Church a series of questions to determine his bail.
Church explained he does not have a permanent address - his Middleburg address belongs to his mother, where he sends his mail and takes his children when he has custody of them.
"I stay pretty much wherever I can stay. When I'm with my children, I make sure they have a nice, comfortable place to sleep, which is at my mother's," he told the judge.
Church said he is currently unemployed, and he was last employed as a pizza delivery man for Papa John's Pizza five months ago.
He said he is not married and has another daughter who is 6-years-old. Rosini explained later that Church was never married to Eisenhuth, and his children are not to the same mother.
Church told Apfelbaum he was arrested 19 years ago on theft charges and was on parole for two years, but he showed up for all his court appearances.
"I will not flee the state. I will show up to all my hearings," he said to the judge. "I never intended anything to happen this way."
He said his words were taken out of context and he would never hurt his daughter or his daughter's mother.
Hearing next week
Rosini requested "substantial bail" of at least $50,000 based on the fact that Church has no permanent address or job and he had told an officer he had plans to go to New York in the near future.
"These were threats to children, and they caused stress to children and parents," Rosini said.
Van Kirk and Fink said they agreed with Rosini.
Apfelbaum set Church's bail at $125,000 with no further conditions, and said he would allow a Protection From Abuse (PFA) that will be filed today to establish the conditions in relation to his ex-girlfriend.
Church was incarnated at Northumberland County Prison at approximately 6 p.m.
His preliminary hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday in front of Cashman, in whose office the charges were filed by Van Kirk and Fink.
'Proud' police work
Rosini thanked the work of law enforcement throughout the incident.
Van Kirk said it the police work was "exceptional."
"When we have an incident, there are no separate agencies, and we all work together as one. We are really proud of that. There was a lot of cooperation," he said.