Let’s start with an apology.
That’s the first thing Aurora Police and Aurora Public Schools need to provide students, parents and the community for botching an incident last week where an armed educator reportedly threatened to shoot people inside Aurora’s West College Preparatory Academy — and then went home.
Then, everyone deserves a detailed explanation of what actually happened last week.
Finally, elected leaders overseeing school and police officials need to fix problems that led to the hot mess local officials have created.
The public now knows that West Academy Dean of Students Tushar Rae, 30, ended up in his school office with the principal Wednesday afternoon. There, he pulled out a loaded gun and made a host of chilling threats.
It was inside the school. The gun was loaded.
The community didn’t know any of that, however, until Thursday night. They found out only because the media outed officials. The public still has little idea what really happened and why both police and school officials tried to keep it quiet.
Rae’s arrest affidavit revealed that on Tuesday there was some kind of school-staff drama between Rae and other educators about school testing. Rae was a no-show at work the next day, according to court records.
At 2 p.m. Wednesday, Rae texted Principal Taisiya Tselolikhin and told her to meet him in his office, and she did. There, Rae pulled out a gun from his pants, put it on a counter between them and said, “Try and f**k with me. You shouldn’t have said what you said. I don’t want to hurt you, I’m going to hurt all the people around you,” according to the affidavit. He then said he was going to shoot the knee caps off of two school administrators. Finally, he said he would shoot the first person he next encountered.
Then a student knocked on his office door. He talked with the students, and he closed the door again.
“(The principal) left (Rae’s) office and began to place the school on lock down,” according to an arrest warrant.
If you’re asking “what?” at this point, so are the rest of us.
The only clear thing is that by the time police arrived, Rae was gone. Aurora police eventually determined Rae had gone to his Denver home. There, Denver police arrested him. They took his gun and carted him off to a Denver jail. There, he posted bond so fast no one was able to impose a restraining order.
Restraining order? For a man who police say threatened to shoot the knee caps off other teachers over testing score notifications?
So here’s what police said in a tweet while all this was going on: “#APDAlert West MS on lockdown due to threat of armed party in area.”
Here’s what the principal said in a message to parents: “Our school is currently in lockdown as we investigate a reported threat.”
And here’s what school officials told parents and students when the “lockdown” was lifted later that afternoon: “There were rumors of an armed individual in the area. However, police completed their search and did not find an armed individual. They have assured us that our school is safe.”
This is either purposely or accidentally one of the worst episodes of misinformation or disinformation I’ve ever seen.
Police and school officials have told reporters that they were just handing out the best information they had at the time. If that’s the case, why were spokespersons so woefully misinformed?
I cannot fathom the outrage I would feel if I were a student or parent at West. I would be livid knowing that a teacher was brandishing a gun inside the school, threatening to shoot people, and neither school officials nor police thought I as a student or parent deserved or needed to know.
I would be incensed and horrified that a man who had done what Rae had just done was at large. I would be furious that he was arrested and released from jail. Given what the public does know, Rae is a clear threat to the school, teachers, students and the city at large. Despite that, school and police officials treat this as if it were no more worrisome than unfounded reports of mysterious gunfire in the night.
Unless there’s something else police and school officials are withholding that explains their nonchalant behavior, this sounds like one dangerous and risky call after another.
It’s mind boggling. This is a city where people have been massacred in a theater. Right now, school shootings are probably every parent’s greatest fear for their child. Just months ago, a sex-scandal in neighboring Cherry Creek schools horrified parents that school administrators would conceal information about student safety.
For the last few years, Aurora police, like others, have been repeatedly criticized for either withholding even simple details in a case or being latent in telling the public about highly volatile or worrisome events. Right now, a new state law will finally force open internal police investigations because too much has been withheld from the public for too long.
Given all that, it is beyond belief that more than a day would go by before parents and students would even have an inkling about something as freakish and horrifying as this incident appears to be.
It’s unacceptable. It’s a loud call for major change if public officials think public safety or justice is served by coordinated government efforts to keep parents, students and the public in the dark.
It undermines trust in police and schools, and that’s a disaster.
Besides an immediate apology for treating the public like bothersome rubes, the Aurora Public Schools board and the Aurora City Council need to prompt independent investigations into what actually happened at this school. An independent inquiry needs to find why the community was either kept in the dark or misled, and how a man who clearly could have been — and may still be — a lethal threat to some or many, was almost immediately set free, and still is. Denver records show Rae is still being held in jail, but it’s only for a paltry $200,000 bond.
Someone could have been killed last week at West Academy. At this point, the only casualty was the public’s confidence that local school officials and police can competently handle dangerous situations like this and be forthright.
This is not an internal matter for these agencies to explore and offer up any additional word salad or deflection as to how this potential catastrophe went so wildly wrong. This is a matter for the governing boards of the school district and the city to deliver frank and transparent explanations to their constituencies about what happened, how it happened and how this will never, ever happen again.