Covington Catholic High School closed for the day after students receive death threats

Jan 22, 2019, 11:43 AM | Updated: 12:51 pm
Nick Sandmann and Nathan Phillips...
Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann faces Native American elder Nathan Phillips at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on January 18th(Photo: Instagram/Kaya Taitano)
(Photo: Instagram/Kaya Taitano)

PARK HILLS, Kentucky — Covington Catholic High School, the school that has been at the center of a firestorm of controversy ever since a video showing some of its students in a confrontation with a Native American elder went viral online, has closed its doors for the day out of a fear for the safety of its students.

The school said that its students have been receiving death threats over the video, in which 16-year-old student Nick Sandmann stands face-to-face with elder Nathan Phillips.

The conflict at the National Mall

Covington Catholic High School confrontation

A still shot from the viral video of the confrontation between Covington students and Nathan Phillips. (Survival Media Agency via AP)

The first video of the incident to appear online was about three minutes long and appeared to show the students surrounding Phillips, chanting along to his drumming in a way that has often been interpreted as mockery.

It provoked an intense reaction online and was followed by an interview with Phillips, who claimed that the students had chanted “build that wall” during the altercation.

A different side of the story, however, later began to emerge as Covington students, including Nick Sandmann, shared their sides of their story.

A longer, nearly two-hour-long version of the video was released on YouTube, further changed how the incident has been perceived. It showed that the confrontation began when a group of African-American protesters called the Hebrew Israelites confronted the students for wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.

The video shows that Phillips approached the students himself. He says that he hoped to calm them down; he has told the New York Times that he was concerned that the conflict was “coming to a boiling point” and that he “stepped in between to pray.”

The students insist that they did not chant “build that wall.” The videos do show, however, that some students encircled him, chanted along to his drumming, and made tomahawk-chop gestures with their hands.

The school initially issued a statement condemning the students’ actions and apologizing to Phillips. In a letter to parents obtained by WLWT-5, however, they have said that they have hired a third-party to investigate their behavior and that they will wait until their investigation is complete before taking any action.

Covington Catholic High School closes its doors

Covington Catholic High School

A police car sits in front of Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky., Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

The ever-evolving details of the incident have turned a black-and-white story of racism into a complex moment that is being viewed from a different angle by almost every person that sees it.

That more nuanced viewed, however, didn’t come in time to keep a tide of a negative press and opinions from falling on the Covington students.

Protesters have already held a rally outside of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Covington, an incident that risked spilling over into conflict when a group that supports the student came out to confront. Police stayed on hand throughout the event.

Several students at the school have received death threats, as well, attorney Rob Sanders has told the Cincinnati Enquirer. Nick Sandmann, in particular, says that he has been directly threatened with physical violence. In his statement, he writes:

I have received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults. One person threatened to harm me at school, and one person claims to live in my neighborhood. My parents are receiving death and professional threats because of the social media mob that has formed over this issue.

For the time being, WXIX reports that the school is playing it safe and asking staff and students “not to be on campus for any reason.” Any students or parents receiving threats, they say, are to contact law enforcement. The school will reopen, they say, “when law enforcement says it is safe to do so.”

In his letter to parents, Principal Robert Rowe asked: “Please continue to keep the Covington Catholic Community in your prayers.”

Dave & Dujanovic weigh in

Who’s really in the wrong here? KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic talked about this on the air, and Dave Noriega says: “There’s a few things that we cannot do as a society, and picking on kids – even if kids are misbehaving – is one of those things.”

If you missed the show live, you can still catch everything he and Debbie Dujanovic had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast:

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Covington Catholic High School closed for the day after students receive death threats