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‘Crossing the line:’ Belgrade school superintendent, principal speak on video threat to students

Posted at 6:50 AM, Jun 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-06 08:50:36-04

BELGRADE, Mont. – A threat against Belgrade students by fellow students sparked a safety situation at Belgrade High School Tuesday.

Now four students could be in trouble and an 18-year-old man is behind bars.

Belgrade police and the Belgrade superintendent, Godfrey Saunders, says it was a situation that deserved every precaution necessary.

It started with a video, which led police to a home and, according to court documents, 18-year-old David Oster.

“This is real stuff and when you start playing with real weapons, that crosses the line,” Saunders says.

The video shows four high school students, taunting a named list of other students, and swearing from a home near Belgrade High School.

At several points, you can see one student holding a handgun.

This all happened during the students’ lunchtime.

“Nine minutes later, after getting back from lunch, the administration called law enforcement and got them involved,” Saunders says.

Superintendent Saunders says 20 students saw the video and brought it to the school’s attention.

“There are some kids, 20 kids, who knew that this was over the line, that this was too far,” Saunders says.

That led police back to the house, where they found Oster, who wasn’t present when the video was filmed.

Gallatin County deputies say at first, Oster lied about the gun’s location but eventually showed police that it was hidden in a portable toilet in a nearby construction area.

The students told investigators it was either his or it belonged to someone else living there.

“Anytime you have an incident that involves a firearm then you have to make some quick decisions about is it just one firearm? Are there more firearms out there?” Saunders says.

From the discovery to law enforcement’s involvement, Saunders says that took nine minutes, total.

“Truly, it was a matter of minutes and then from that point on, it was a matter of making decisions as to what to do next,” Saunders says.

“The students whose names were in that video, where are they?” Saunders says. “Where are the students who were involved with producing the video?”

Superintendent Saunders says student safety obviously was and always is key.

That’s why the principal says all of the teachers and other staff here at the high school have radios for quick communication.

“So during a shelter-in-place like this, we’re able to communicate with them (with) real-time information,” says Paul Lamb, Belgrade High School principal.

Saunders says you may have freedom of choice, but not freedom of consequence, something he hopes his students take to heart.

“The greatest gift that they can give anyone is to help take care of each other, themselves,” Saunders says. “That’s precious.”

MTN News also spoke with the county attorney, who says the process is still in its early stages to see if the four students will be possibly tried as adults in this case.

Oster’s bail was set at $250,000.

Superintendent Saunders says law enforcement played an integral part in the shelter-in-place mode during all of this.

Montana Highway Patrol, police from both Belgrade and Bozeman, along with Gallatin County deputies secured the building from the outside while students and faculty continued through the rest of their day inside.

That’s what shelter-in-place mode means – Saunders says people can continue business as usual and move inside with escorts.

A lockdown is different, where no one goes in or goes out.

Parents were also immediately notified.

“You want to make sure that parents know,” Saunders says. “I have kids of my own. I have grand-kids and you want parents to know that you don’t take that lightly. You take it very seriously and that’s our number one concern and thanks to all of the efforts yesterday, we did that.”

Saunders says his staff will also be taking a careful review of their security protocols for the future — including technology, communication, and ways to notify the public when something like this happens.