BELLEVILLE, Ill. - The St. Clair County State's Attorney's Office charged an 18-year-old who planned to confront students at Belleville East High School on Wednesday, forcing classes to be canceled at both Belleville East and Belleville West.
The suspect, Derek Burton, was enrolled in the district but had not attended classes most of the semester.
Burton was charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, unlawful use of a weapon by a person under 21, and felony disorderly conduct tied to a threat made against a person at a school. Prosecutors said the aggravated assault charges stem from an incident at a nearby Circle K.
Dr. Jeff Dosier, the superintendent of the Belleville Township High School District #201, said he got a call about 5:20 a.m. Wednesday from Belleville police advising him about a "credible threat" to the schools. Dosier said police recommended that he close both high schools.
“If I’m gonna be criticized, it’ll be for that. You can say I overreacted, that we were overly cautious, that we protect these kids, that we did more than we should’ve. I’ll take that,” said Belleville Police Chief William Clay.
It was supposed to be the last day of class for both schools.
“We’ve all seen the tragedies that have happened around the country, so I can’t imagine that this would be an overreaction,” Dosier said.
Some 4,800 students total attend Belleville East and West high schools.
Police said Burton's mother, Marshanice Mackey, called in to report that her son left the house after getting into a fight with his girlfriend and making suicidal comments. She also noticed her handgun was missing.
Burton was taken into police custody at around 7:50 a.m. at his girlfriend's house in Shiloh. He did not have the gun in his possession. There were no injuries reported on campus.
Mackey said she knew she had to call the police and she ended up not only sparing the life of her son but quite possibly several others.
“You cannot take things lightly. I want every parent across the country, across the world, to never have to experience what I just experienced this very second. This is just tragic to me,” she said. “There is no way possible that I would’ve known that my son was in a situation that he was in and I did not report this; absolutely, positively not."
Mackey was present as St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly read off the charges against her son.
While this experience has been one of the most difficult she's ever been through, Mackey said the support from people across the country and especially those here in Belleville have helped her get through this situation.
“I need parents to understand: watch your kids closely. Don’t take for granted that your kids are not doing XYZ, be there to support them by any means necessary,” Mackey said.