School officials say a neighbor's alleged threats about “bloody children” following his complaints about noise did not warrant alerting parents because authorities did not deem the man a threat.
That neighbor, however, was eventually arrested because police found a sawed-off AK-47 in his home.
The target of the alleged threats made in March and April was the AmeriSchools Academy-North, located at 1220 S. 4th Ave. in Yuma. The threats were said to be made by Robert Purro, 79, a resident of a nearby trailer park who had complained about students being too noisy, according to police reports.
The Yuma Sun became aware of the case this week, following a tip from an anonymous caller.
Charges were not filed against Purro for making threats, according to the Yuma Police, but he faces charges of possessing an illegal weapon.
“At the time we did not feel he was a threat and we did not make an arrest,” said Sgt. Leanne Worthen, spokeswoman for YPD. Worthen said the city prosecutor declined to bring charges against Purro regarding the threats.
An AmeriSchool official said Wednesday that Purro has since moved and that the school's decisions were always rooted in student safety.
“The school always tries to make decisions that are the best for the students and the school, it's definitely not to not inform the parents, because we are in the business of taking care of your kids and we pride ourselves on our communication,” said Principal William Wachunas.
The school plans to host a meeting next Tuesday to discuss parents' concerns. The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. at 1220 S. 4th Ave.
Wachunas says he became aware of Purro's complaints in March following receipt of a letter from Purro, who said he “had enough enemies” and noise from the school was getting worse. The letter was sent to another AmeriSchools location in Yuma, however.
“The way I found out about it, I was notified by my district there was a letter, but the police looked into it and there was no threat,” the principal said, adding that two weeks spanned between letter being received and Purro's arrest. “At that point, in those two weeks, I didn't know who the gentleman was, where he lived or what the threat was. The only thing I was told was there was a suspicious letter. We notified police and police said there was nothing to worry about.”
Gary LeBlanc, superintendent for AmeriSchools, was not available for comment Wednesday.
In the weeks following the letter, Purro allegedly told witnesses that if school officials didn't listen to his complaints, they would be “picking up bloody children” and he would “save the last bullet for himself,” according to police reports. However, Purro also told authorities that he was “losing it,” but never intended to harm anyone.
During this time period, Purro was treated and evaluated by Yuma Regional Medical Center and local mental health agencies.
In April he told authorities that he possessed weapons. YPD officers obtained a search warrant and initially found a revolver and bullets in Purro's home near the school. Subsequent information from Purro led officers to return to his home, where they discovered an AK-47 assault rifle and ammunition. According to police records, the rifle had been sawed off at 12 inches, four fewer than what is allowed by Arizona law.
Purro was arrested and charged with possession of the weapon.
He told authorities he didn't remember why he shortened the rifle, but possessed it because he thought that a neighbor was a Nazi. He planned to tell that neighbor the truth about Hitler one day and wanted to be armed.
YPD's Worthen could not verify Purro's current address. She confirmed that he is not currently jailed, although he remains in the legal system pending weapons charges.
Principal Wachunas gave the Yuma Sun a tour of his school facility Wednesday, stressing the safety procedures and security systems already in place.
“This is a normal school day. The gates are locked. The doors are locked,” he said. “We are always in a state of modified lockdown - even when there's no problem.”
Demonstrating the school's video security system protecting the front door, Wachunas said the average person doesn't realize the level of security found at today's schools.
“A police officer who came by last week said ‘Wow. You guys have really good security.' He said 'You guys have everything you could possibly have,'” the principal said. “There is never a perfect situation, but we have done everything we possibly can and we're always looking for ways to improve.”
AmeriSchools has brought YPD officers to the campus three times in the past six years for instruction on lock down procedures. Wachunas has received training from the Department of Homeland Security. His staff has also received “live shooter” training from a local anti-terrorism expert.
“What I tell people is that in any school, in education today, safety is the No. 1 priority,” he said. “We would never do anything that we consider unsafe for our students - and we haven't.”
Darin Fenger can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6860.