When an angry fan vented his frustration on Facebook during a high school basketball game, the perceived threat he made caused several Camas students and parents to fear for their lives.
With just a keypad, a dangerous choice of words and the press of a button, 39-year-old Jeffery Berni of Vancouver set off a fire storm. His statement, “Camas fans! Worst in the league! I hope somebody shoots up their school really soon,” still smolders a week after it was posted.
Fans from both schools were caught up in the drama unfolding during an exciting game between the Camas and Skyview boys basketball teams Jan. 22, at Camas High School. Skyview won 44-42 after Camas missed the game-tying basket at the buzzer.
Camas Athletic Director Josh Gibson said he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until Berni got into an argument with a group of Camas students on his way out of the gym. The students followed Berni out of the building, before Gibson stepped in and held them back. He said he did not speak to Berni; he only wanted to get the situation under control.
What Gibson didn’t know was that a wildfire had already been set on Facebook. Berni deleted his frightening post, but the damage had already been done. Gibson and Principal Steve Marshall began receiving phone calls and text messages from concerned parents and students immediately after the game.
“When comments like that spread through social media, it’s disguised. We have no control over what is said,” Gibson said. “We have a responsibility to insure the safety of the students who come to our games. That’s what we’re focusing on.”
The Camas and Vancouver school districts went into action that evening. Administrators notified the Camas Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. By Wednesday morning, Berni was labeled a trespasser on any Camas or Vancouver school district property.
“This is my eighth year here, and I’ve never had to deal with a situation like this from a parent,” said Skyview High School Athletic Director Jim Condon. “It’s extremely shocking in light of the recent shootings that anybody would say anything like that. And that’s why it alarmed the people in Camas and the members of the Vancouver School District.”
Camas police investigated the incident and there will be no criminal charges, according to a press release from Sgt. Scot Boyles. It stated “while Berni’s actions were alarming, his actions did not reach the level of a criminal action.”
“To wish harm on someone could not be found in the statutes of criminal law,” said Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey. “It’s a common question to want to know how far somebody would have to go in order to be arrested, but a difficult one to answer. It all depends on the actions and behaviors of the person. In this case, the individual was apologetic. He realized he made a mistake.”
What’s left is two nearby communities at a crossroads. Marshall believes a similar situation could occur at any school, so it’s important to be proactive.
“We are going to talk to our students about the importance of sportsmanship and perception; about what you mean and how you say it can be interpreted differently,” he said. “When you look at the response, ‘Camas fans … worst in the league,’ that’s going to put a lot of attention on our school. We have a responsibility to showcase the class and true sportsmanship of our community, and all of the great things that we love about Camas.”
Gibson and Condon have talked about mending the fences in time for the next Camas and Skyview sporting event. The schools have garnered respect for each other through years of competition.
“It’s up to our kids and theirs to decide how we handle this,” Condon said. “We want to have a friendly rivalry.”