No evidence of warning in school shootings, police say

MARYSVILLE — Claims by a substitute teacher that a student warned her two days before the shootings at Marysville Pilchuck High School are unfounded, a detective who worked the case said Wednesday.

Marysville police detective Craig Bartl is part of the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team that did the investigation.

The team thoroughly investigated the teacher’s claim months ago and determined it was untrue.

“Our SMART team members, we pride ourselves on being thorough, unbiased, doing our investigations and having a high level of integrity and professionalism,” he said. “Any suggestion that we don’t do it that way is just irresponsible.”

Tuesday’s release of 1,400 pages from the investigation prompted intense news coverage. Some Seattle media outlets have focused on a substitute teacher’s two sworn statements in which she first said she had tried to warn about the shootings and then later recanted that story.

Days after the shootings, Sheriff Ty Trenary promised that any answers detectives uncovered would be made public but cautioned that the investigation might never resolve why 15-year-old Jaylen Fryberg shot five of his friends in the cafeteria that day, killing four, before taking his own life.

After Tuesday’s records release, some media outlets focused their stories on the documents involving substitute teacher Rosemarie Cooper, 67, who had recanted her initial statements. Tuesday night she told a TV reporter that she stands by what she originally said, and she claimed to have been silenced by authorities.

On Wednesday, she did not respond to a Daily Herald request for comment.

Cooper’s claims were a minor part of a sprawling investigation involving dozens of detectives from different agencies. Hers were among scores of interviews released Tuesday. The sudden focus on Cooper by some in the media has been baffling to those who witnessed the aftermath of the shooting in Marysville and surrounding communities.

“It’s too bad that we have to address this issue when, at this time, we’re trying to move forward as a community, as a city, as a department,” Bartl said. “To have to go back to address issues like this, it’s not fair for all of us involved.”

Authorities respond

Transcripts of the detectives’ interviews with the teacher were more than 900 pages into the report released Tuesday.

The city of Everett on Wednesday released the audio recordings of the police interviews with Cooper “to clarify questions raised by several media outlets” about the teacher’s claims.

Trenary also issued a statement, saying he stood by the detectives and their conclusions.

“A team of the best investigators in this county followed up on all credible evidence and witness statements, which is corroborated by investigative records and files,” the sheriff said.

Marysville School District officials said they learned of Cooper’s claim shortly after the shootings and brought it to the attention of police.

“We were made aware of this allegation early on after the tragedy and immediately reported it to law enforcement, which investigated and reported back to the school district that it was unfounded,” Superintendent Becky Berg said Wednesday. “We have full confidence in the integrity of the investigation by the SMART team.”

Who said what?

Cooper received her first teaching certificate in September 1973 and currently holds a valid substitute teacher certificate, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. She told a TV station that she no longer is working as a sub.

Documents indicate that Cooper’s claim that she’d been tipped off about the shootings reached police indirectly. She told an acquaintance from church at a group dinner. That person, who was substituting in the front office at Marysville Middle School, repeated to staff members there what she’d heard.

What Cooper said to the acquaintance and police varied wildly. Detectives interviewed school staff, including people from the front office, and the student who Cooper said had approached her two days before the violence.

In her interviews with police, Cooper claimed Marysville Pilchuck students were “whooping and hollering” in class over what she thought were messages on their smartphones. She said one boy approached her and said there was going to be a shooting at the school.

Detectives spoke with that boy. He denied the substitute teacher’s claims. Detectives believed him to be credible, records show.

“We took that claim seriously,” Bartl said. “We investigated that claim thoroughly, we interviewed multiple people, we talked to multiple people and, in the end, it was unfounded.”

Cooper didn’t return calls from investigators, so they went to her house on the Tulalip Indian Reservation on Oct. 29.

Washington State Patrol detective Jeff Rhue, the lead detective in the case, interviewed Cooper. She said she was a substitute teacher at the high school for a literature class on Oct. 22. That was two days before the shootings. Her freshman class was so rowdy she couldn’t take attendance. Students refused to sit in their assigned seats or do their work.

She told Rhue a shy boy approached her desk and said the kids were misbehaving because of something on a cellphone. At first, she claimed the boy told her there would be a shooting in the cafeteria at 10 a.m. that Friday and that kids were talking about seeing a post to that effect on Twitter. She asked the boy for his name and he “shook his head and walked off,” she said.

Evolving account

On Tuesday night this week, Cooper gave a different story to a television reporter. She told KCPQ-TV that the warning happened a day before the shooting, not two, and that she’d been told the shooter’s last name.

There is no evidence in investigation documents made public that any student ever reported seeing a warning on Twitter before the shooting. Fryberg’s social media posts, including those from Twitter, from the days before were included in the documents.

Cooper said that after the class Oct. 22, she reported the rumor to an attendance secretary. Her description of the secretary didn’t match any school staff, other employees told police.

She claimed school staff seemed unconcerned by her report. She said she took notes and put them in a substitute teacher’s folder, which she turned in at the front desk. She also said they were in a notebook, or maybe in the regular teacher’s textbook.

The regular teacher in that classroom said Cooper left him notes, but they contained no warning. He threw the notes away.

Detectives asked a custodian to go through trash cans and recycle bins to look for the notes, which weren’t recovered.

In detective interviews, Cooper gave multiple, conflicting descriptions of her conversations with the shy boy. She said she couldn’t see much of his face because he wore “a winter hat with a brim, a little brim, and a tassel, and then this long scarf connected to it.”

She said that if that ever happened to her again, she would call 911 because she was told “from another school that that’s what you have to do.” She also didn’t mention the conversation with the boy to her husband until after the shootings, she said. Her husband interrupted her first interview with detectives to say that substitute teachers are treated poorly in general.

Cooper was interviewed again by Rhue on Oct. 31. She was about two hours late to the appointment. A friend of hers said she got lost on the way to the State Patrol office in Marysville. Her home is about four miles away from the station on 116th Street NE.

She reportedly told the detective that she has a bad memory and gets confused about things, and “her husband always yells at her about that,” Rhue wrote.

Cooper told KCPQ that the police called her a liar and she told them what they wanted to hear because they didn’t believe her. “They were screaming at me. I just wanted it to stop,” she said on TV, declining to show her face.

There is no screaming and yelling on the audio recordings released Wednesday.

Instead, on Oct. 31, she calmly told Rhue that maybe she’d been confused, that what she thought was a warning maybe was a song lyric that someone sang in class, or something she’d seen on TV.

“Maybe I saw the shooting on TV so much I thought I may have heard it,” she said.

Rhue asked Cooper whether she’d actually been warned about a shooting.

“I can’t be sure,” she said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Where to get help

To learn more about resources available to teens and their families, call Victim Support Services at 800-346-7555.

To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK) or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Other resources are available at www.mtunited.org.

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