School System Responds To Alleged Gang Incident At WJHS

Johnston County Public School officials have responded to a report of possible gang activity on the campus of West Johnston High. On Wednesday, JoCoReport reported the arrest of 16 year-old Melissa Janet Rios-Bello of Garner, a student at the school.  Rios-Bello is accused of assaulting a 16 year-old female student on Monday allegedly because she was wearing rival gang-colored clothing.

Sources tell JoCoReport some of the same students involved in Monday’s incident were also involved in a March 2018 incident at West Johnston High where 7 people were arrested for trespassing at the school, prompting a lockdown and heavy law enforcement response.

In a prepared statement from Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow and West Johnston High Principal Jennifer Swartz they said, “While there are individuals in the school system who may say they are part of a group, organization, or “gang”, if you want to call it that, Dr. Renfrow and Principal Jennifer Swartz have no knowledge of any “gang” problem within the school system. If incidents occur on campus, SRO’s are directed to investigate and handle criminal matters in conjunction with school officials. In the course of the investigation, a statement or statements given by students may indicate membership in a group or organization, but that is seldom the case. And while outside the school setting, there may be groups of students or others who say they are a gang, school administrators are vigilant to not allow these outside groups to interfere with the educational learning environment of the schools.  In conclusion, if anyone perceives or has knowledge of a “gang” problem, it should be brought to the school administration’s attention and the situation will be promptly addressed by Sheriff’s Department SRO and school personnel.”

Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to a lockdown resulting in the arrests of 7 teens trespassing on the campus of West Johnston High in March 2018. Some of the same students involved in the 2018 incident were reportedly connected to a possible gang-related assault on campus on May 6, 2019. File Photo

School Board Member Todd Sutton told JoCoReport, “There is not a day that goes by that that I don’t think about the safety and security of all of our schools in Johnston County. I will not tolerate any form of violence having a presence in JCPS. I am thankful for all of the SROs that are in our high schools and very appreciative of the state grant we received to assist us with placing an additional 12 SROs in our middle schools across the county. However, we must continue to train and prepare for all acts of violence and we also must support of principals in their disciplinary recommendations for students who illustrate violent behavior. This will allow us to provide a safe learning and working environment for all.”

Rios-Bello, who was charged with simple assault for Monday’s incident. She was released from the Johnston County Jail on a $1,000 bond.  Officials have not said if she has been allowed to return to school.  She could face disciplinary action under Johnston County Public Schools Code of Conduct Policy, however student discipline information is not public record.