An image of a swastika was electronically sent to students attending an assembly at Oak Park and River Forest High School Friday — days after racist and anti-Semitic graffiti was found in and around the school and as the school has received national attention after the release of a documentary about the racial achievement gap at the school.
The image was sent to students using the AirDrop function on an iPhone or other Apple device while they were in the school’s auditorium for a “Tradition of Excellence” assembly honoring accomplished alumni, according to an email Karin Sullivan, a spokeswoman at the high school, sent to parents and students.
Sullivan wrote that the image was sent by someone in the auditorium.
“Administration and security are aware and are in full investigation mode,” Sullivan wrote.
Sophomore Brandon Stiffic, 16, said 1,000 students or more were at the morning assembly. He wasn’t sure how many students got the image because many who got it immediately took screenshots and forwarded it to others or posted it on social media.
“I was at the assembly and received the AirDrop but didn’t accept it because I didn’t want that stuff on my phone,” said Stiffic, who is African-American.
AirDrop allows files to be shared instantly between Apple devices in close proximity via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Since a preview image is displayed with a prompt asking each user to accept or deny a file, the swastika image could have appeared immediately on the screens of iPhones in the auditorium that were connected to the shared network.
Apple doesn’t maintain records of AirDrop transfers, and the sender can easily change the name associated with the image. In this case, a screenshot of the image identifies the sender as “Rouse” — an apparent reference to the principal at the school, Nathaniel Rouse, who is African American.
On Friday afternoon, the village of Oak Park posted a statement saying police — with the help of the FBI and the school — had identified “a juvenile as a person of interest in connection with the electronic distribution of an anti-Semitic image to some Oak Park and River Forest High School students.”
The statement said the unnamed person “may be responsible” for sharing the image via AirDrop.
“Police expect to interview the juvenile today and work with the Cook County State’s Attorney to determine if charges are warranted,” the statement said.
The statement did not say whether the person being questioned was believed to have been involved in the other incidents.
What’s more, sharing the image led to a second incident, the village said, “when a student reportedly told a parent two students were talking about shooting up the school, prompting the parent to contact police. The report turned out to be a misunderstanding.”
School officials sent a note to parents Friday afternoon saying the incident was resolved — but shared no details.
“We have worked closely with the police to investigate today’s incident, and we believe we have brought this particular matter to closure,” Sullivan said in the note. “Due to privacy laws, we cannot be more specific than this. In this and all other investigations, we cannot identify persons responsible, nor can we share any disciplinary consequences that result.”
School and police officials could not be reached for comment. Neither the FBI nor the state’s attorney were available.
Series of incidents
The swastika sent Friday is the latest in a series of racially charged incidents at the school.
Last week, someone targeted Anthony Clark, an African-American special education teacher, in a racist message written on the school’s campus. The phrases “F— dancing n—– Anthony Clark” and “white power” were accompanied by two crudely drawn swastikas.
Then, on Tuesday, more bigoted graffiti was discovered at the school. Along with another swastika, someone wrote “All n—— need to die,” “white power,” “Death to blacks and muslims” and “GAS the Jews.”
Parents said students at the school are worried as the incidents continue — and are even keeping their kids out of class.
“It’s getting scarier for the students and my own daughter,” said Shelly Jamison, whose 17-year-old daughter attends the school.
“She is really nervous to go to school because of what might happen,” she added. “My daughter is struggling with this and having a really difficult time. … This will end up affecting their education.”
She doesn’t believe the incidents “represent the thoughts of the students and faculty at all, but it’s unnerving that they are so brazen.”
Stiffic, the student, believes it is someone who is “trolling” — nevertheless, he left early Friday.
Teacher calls for unity
Meanwhile, Clark has organized a march for 3 p.m. Sunday that will kick off from the main entrance of the school.
“I am calling for all religious leaders, all community members, all allies, to come together in support of Black, Jewish, and Muslim communities this Sunday, to stand firm against hate,” he said.
The high school has prompted a national conversation about race following the release of a 10-part documentary about race relations and the racial achievement gap at the school. The documentary was filmed by Steve James, the award-winning director of “Hoop Dreams” — and an Oak Park resident.
The program, shown on the STARZ network, has led to a series of forums in the community on racial equity.