After the school saw a threatening post Thursday evening, administrators shut down Harvard-Westlake on Friday. Credit: Saba Nia
Harvard-Westlake High School

Blindsided: Harvard-Westlake closed due to security threat

Following a former student’s threatening social media post, school administration shut down both the Upper School and Middle School due to a “security threat” Friday. The middle school orchestra concert was postponed and all athletic practices were cancelled.

In a statement released to the school, President Rick Commons said that members of the administration decided to halt campus operations temporarily after they discovered an alumnus’s Instagram post that suggested an attack on the school and specifically mentioned Harvard-Westlake.

“The safety of our students, faculty and staff is always our primary concern,” Commons said in the email. “So, out of an abundance of caution, we made the decision to close school today.”

The post, which was uploaded to the Instagram story of Jonathan Martin ’08, featured a shotgun surrounded by shell casings. The caption read, “When you’re a bully victim & a coward, your options are suicide, or revenge” followed by the school’s hashtag.

The alumnus was allegedly bullied at the school and during his time playing football for the Miami Dolphins. The Orlando Sentinel said that an independent report from the NFL claimed that Martin has received treatment for depression since he was a teenager.

Though authorities said that no direct threat was made, the Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the threat and working with the school’s security team. Martin is now in the custody of the police, according to another statement from the school.

“With these precautions in place, we believe there is no imminent threat to our campuses or our school community,” Commons said in the release statement.

LAPD also employed more patrols around the school, according to the Los Angeles Times, which is spit into two campuses with grades 7-9 attending the Bel-Air campus, and grades 10-12 at the Studio City one, respectively.

Members of the school community received an alert via the school’s emergency notification system at 7:14 a.m. that the campuses would be closed. Commuters were able to return home but most bus services continued on their routes to the school.

“I don’t think people were really that worried being there,” junior Nikki Smith, who waited at school with other bus riders, said. “The administration did a good job updating us and keeping everything organized.”

Students who were on campus were directed to designated areas where they could wait until their guardians could pick them up. Dean and summer school coordinator Lynn Miller and math department head Kent Nealis worked with the security guards to escort parents and students from the lounge to their cars.

“The atmosphere was a bit peculiar for the first 20 minutes because none of us really knew what was happening,” sophomore Michael Lehrhoff said. “Without knowing for sure if there was a threat and if we were in any danger, I was impressed that the room was so calm. There was a shared sense of support coming from the students and faculty alike because of the emotionally confusing situation that we found ourselves in. At no point did I feel greatly concerned about my safety or the safety of others because of the precautions that Harvard-Westlake takes for all of us.”

In 2013, Martin originally made headlines after publicly accusing teammate Richie Incognito of bullying him both on and off the field. According to Sports Illustrated, a NFL-commissioned investigation led by lawyer Ted Wells and his firm revealed a “pattern of harassment” by three Miami Dolphins – Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey – directed at Martin, in addition to another young lineman and an assistant trainer on the team. Their report presented evidence of derogatory language that included racist, sexually explicit and homophobic slurs.

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle reported in 2013 that after serving as a member of the school’s football team, Martin continued playing the offensive line at Stanford University, notably shielding current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s blind side. At the 2012 National Football League Draft, the Miami Dolphins selected Martin to play on their team.

The bullying and harassment allegations sent shockwaves around the country and within the Harvard-Westlake community. Several coaches, students and faculty members relayed their support for Martin during this time, including former Head of Upper School and Head of Athletics Audrius Barzdukas, who addressed the controversy in the same Chronicle article from 2013.

“At Harvard-Westlake, we try to teach with everything that we do, including teaching how to do things the right way and teaching what’s the right way to be with every single thing we do – arts, academics, athletics, operations, everything,” Barzdukas said in the article. “We try and teach, and I think that our students leave here with a sense of what’s the right thing to do and what’s the right way to be.”

In 2015, Martin retired from the NFL due to a back injury that would have sidelined him for the 2015-2016 season. A few months later he revealed in a Facebook post that he attempted suicide multiple times during his NFL career and struggled socially and emotionally while attending John Thomas Dye and Harvard-Westlake.

“You learn to tone down your size and blackness by becoming shy, introverted, friendly, so you won’t scare the little rich white kids or their parents,” Martin wrote. “Neither black nor white people accept you because they don’t understand you. It takes away your self-confidence, your self-worth, your sanity.”

The Chronicle reported that the post  prompted the athletic department at Harvard-Westlake to reexamine its approach to monitoring the wellbeing of student athletes.

“A lot of the feelings that he had were internal, and I think that his statement kind of said that,” Athletic Director Terry Barnum said in the article. “Just because it was not overt or readily known by any of us, obviously it was happening, but he felt that way, and we are trying to do a better job of checking in with our student-athletes to make sure that they are feeling good about being members of our community. I think that we will continue to try to improve upon that.”