Vigilance by administrators, cooperation with law enforcement averted tragedy at Pineywoods Academy

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LUFKIN, Texas (KETK) – A potential tragedy was averted at Pineywoods Community Academy, a small charter school in Lufkin.

The school administration’s vigilance helped uncover a “hit list” before any harm could come to students or faculty.

Here in East Texas there is a common stigma of “it won’t happen here,” but after receiving frightening news of a possible hit list eight months ago, Pineywoods Community immediately took action and called the police.

“But in April, after taking statements from almost a dozen students and faculty, we didn’t have enough evidence to make a criminal case,” said Lufkin Police Chief Dave Thomas. “So we had to turn the case back over to the administration over at Pineywoods.”

Ever vigilant, Pineywoods Community Academy didn’t want to take any chances and kept their eyes and ears open.

Especially when it came to the student involved.

“(We were) meeting and greeting him every day and making sure we went through some of his items to make sure he wasn’t doing anything that we thought was odd,” said Pineywoods Community Academy school director Ken Vaughn. “We also kept a watch on social media, so we’d go out and check things to see if we could pick up any tips or see anything else that would lead us to believe that this actually was true.”

Then on November 14 the school’s concerns were confirmed when some incriminating text messages were discovered.

“We had a very loving and caring individual who brought us some information,” said Vaughn.

Immediately, Vaughn turned this new information over to the police and expelled the students involved.

“With the texts that we had and the prior investigation that we conducted we had enough probable cause to obtain a warrant for the student’s arrest,” said Chief Thomas.

Shortly after Ty Hodges, 18, turned himself in.

His texts dated back to the original investigation and included maps of the school, photos of accessible firearms and other notes eerily similar to the Columbine shooting 20 years earlier such as: “Shooting plans suicide one” and “Ty’s suicide/shooting plans.”

Not only were they similar to plans of the infamous 1999 shooting, but the original concern was in April, which marked the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.

“I’m just glad that we caught it now,” said Chief Thomas. “I’d much rather catch it in the planning stages than responding to something like this. Right now no one’s been hurt and we’ll count it as good thing.”

The Lufkin Police Department has filed first-degree-felony warrants on Hodges and another student who is a minor.

The Lufkin Police Department has filed first-degree-felony warrants on two former Pineywoods Community Academy students stemming from an investigation that began earlier this year.

On April 5, the Department received a report of a possible threat to student/campus safety made by Ty Hodges – a 17-year-old junior at the time.

Detectives spoke with Hodges and searched his phone. They also took statements from nearly a dozen students. At that time there was no evidence to suggest Hodges was involved in any criminal activity.  Hodges explained that what may have been construed as threats was him saying someone was on his “list,” meaning his “crap list.” Hodges also mentioned to detectives that he had recently done a college research project on the Columbine shooting.

Because there was no evidence to show Hodges was planning to commit a crime or that he had made threats against the campus or individual students, the matter was turned back over to Pineywoods school officials.

On Nov. 14, detectives received new information regarding the involvement of a juvenile Pineywoods student who had been corresponding with Hodges via text message. The text messages were dated from January to February of this year. They included maps of the school, photos of accessible guns owned by family members and a note entry titled “Shooting plans suicide one” with a subtitle of “(Juvenile name omitted) and Ty’s suicide/shooting plans.” Some of the language appeared to have been borrowed directly from a similar list written by the Columbine shooters.

Detectives were not aware of the juvenile’s involvement during their April investigation.

Detectives immediately notified the school of the new development and school officials expelled Hodges and the juvenile.

Lufkin Police Chief David Thomas said the Department will continue working with school officials to maintain the safety and security of the campus.

“Our No. 1 priority is the safety of the citizens of our community,” Thomas said. “With the world that we live in, we have to take these types of plans and threats seriously. We would rather avert an active attack than have to respond to one.”  

Hodges turned himself in today on a charge of criminal conspiracy. He is cooperating with the investigation.

The juvenile will be handled through the juvenile justice system. No additional information or details will be available on the juvenile’s case. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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