How death threats over a vaccine clinic hosted by Littleton Public Schools led to days of anxiety, urgency for the district

Threats led to at least one person charged as district raced to quell harassment, ensure safety

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New details about the death threats sent to Littleton Public Schools Superintendent Brian Ewert and the board of education following controversy over a district-hosted COVID vaccine clinic convey days of anxiety, uncertainty and urgency for the district. 

The threats began shortly after two videos surfaced showing a 15-year-old Littleton High School student and a 16-year-old homeschooled student lying to clinic staff at Heritage High School on Jan. 21 about age and parental consent as part of a deliberate attempt to shut down the clinic.

Threats led to at least one charge

In a voicemail message left on Ewert's phone at 9:05 a.m. Jan. 25, a caller threatened to inject Ewert with a syringe of anthrax, a deadly bacteria.

A 48-year-old Thornton resident, Byron Clayton, is accused of making that call, according to Littleton Police Department Detective Sgt. Rob Eich. The department issued a citation on Jan. 26 alleging that Clayton committed harassment by phone or computer, including threats, according to Eich. 

"I heard you like to inject children with garbage and poison type of stuff without their parental consent ... I have a syringe full of anthrax to inject into you," said the voicemail message, which was shared by Ewert with Colorado Community Media. The caller then went on to graphically describe how he believed Ewert would die from the injection. 

On Jan. 26, investigators for the Littleton Police spoke with Clayton's mother, who told the investigators that her son holds very conservative and anti-vax political views and follows Q-Anon, according to a police report. The police report lists Clayton's previous criminal history as including indecent exposure, property damage and disturbing the peace.

That same day, investigators interviewed Clayton at his workplace. The police report says Clayton first denied knowing anything about the call, but after being told that police would seek a warrant for his phone, he admitted to leaving the threatening voicemail "just to vent."

School board President Robert Reichardt sent an email on Jan. 25 to Ewert and other district staff saying the voicemail was "a threat to kill."  

Superintendent sought more security following voicemail, emails

The school board on Jan. 24 received an email, obtained by CCM through an open records request, comparing board members to Nazis who faced the death penalty during the Nuremberg Trials following the end of World War II. 

"Even those who said they were just doing their job got executed," the email reads. 

And several online posts called for violence toward the district, according to the records provided by district staff. Commenters likened vaccinating children to child abuse and murder. 

"A Hot Lead Lunch is in need for child abusers," one post reads.

"There's going to be bloodshed, and that is not a threat. That's a statement of how many parents will react," reads another. 

One comment calls for "more school shootings" in Colorado and said the district should "start looking for a replacement superintendent now, so they will have a fresh body to take over with minimal loss of leadership."

Hundreds of other emails from dozens of senders that were obtained by CCM call for the ousters of the superintendent and board members, including threats of legal action and prison time. 

The threats led district leaders on Jan. 25 to call for increased security measures for the upcoming Jan. 27 board meeting that would see the teens involved in the video incidents and their parents speak publicly. 

"We will need a strong security and law enforcement presence at the Board meeting on Thursday evening," Ewert wrote in an email to Reichardt, the board president, and Mark Edson, assistant director of security and emergency planning for LPS.

On the morning of Jan. 25, the two videos gained national attention when they were posted on a right-wing Twitter account, "Libs of Tik Tok." Both videos have since been deleted.

Through their deception, the two minors were able to exploit staff protocols and be approved for vaccines without legitimate parental consent. Guidelines from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment instruct vaccine providers not to ask for ID, a provision intended to make sure that undocumented, unhoused, or other marginalized people can receive vaccines.

The 16-year-old, Alexander Tallentire, lied about his age by giving a fake birthdate indicating that he was 20, and 15-year-old Owen McGough handed staff a fake parental consent form. Neither actually ended up getting the vaccine that day, the videos showed and parents confirmed. 

But the children's parents, Karen Tallentire and Gregg McGough, claimed the videos showed how staff had undermined parental authority and disproved an earlier statement made by Ewert on Jan. 20 to McGough that parents had to be present for a child to receive a vaccine. 

Ewert, in a previous statement to CCM, said he "incorrectly assumed that that was required" and had been told by the Tri-County Health Department on Jan. 25 that only parental consent was needed for unaccompanied children.

24 hours of anxiety and urgency 

As the videos circulated online, district staff raced to quell a situation they saw as getting out of control beginning on the afternoon of Jan. 24 and into the following day. 

"As you can imagine, this has created another barrage of ugliness for LPS," Ewert said in a Jan. 24 email at 4:27 p.m. that was sent to John Douglas, Tri-County Health executive director, and Melissa Sager, the agency's policy and public affairs officer. He added that the district may need a statement from Tri-County. 

Douglas responded at 5:21 p.m. and said Tri-County was setting up a call with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Jogan Health, who staffed the clinic at Heritage. 

On Jan. 25, Ewert sent another email flagging the need for more urgency. 

"This isn't good and is taking on a life of its own," Ewert said in a 9:17 a.m. email to Douglas. "We need public health to step up and make a statement about what happened." 

At 11:08 a.m., Sager, Tri-County's policy and public affairs officer, sent an email to Ewert asking for a meeting between him and CDPHE at 2:30 or 3:30 p.m. that day. 

Meanwhile, a reporter for Fox News Digital, Timothy Nerozzi, reached out to the district at 11:20 a.m. Jan. 25 asking to speak with a school representative. 

"I could really use the school's side of the story and your perspective of how this bizarre incident went down," Nerozzi said in an email. "It seems like social media has begun to blowing up this story without full context." 

Nerozzi followed up with a second email at 2:07 p.m., again asking for the school's stance. 

"I don't want to go to press with only one side of the story, if possible," he wrote. 

At 2:44 p.m., LPS spokesperson Diane Leiker sent Nerozzi a link to a statement Ewert made earlier that day to the parents and staff. Nerozzi's story was published that day

Two days later, Gregg and Owen McGough appeared on a segment of Fox News' "Fox and Friends" during which Owen McGough said, "bringing the vaccine clinics into schools brings politics into schools." 

Ewert, in a previous statement to CCM, said he was "disappointed that we would have kids be deceitful to prove a point around vaccination clinics."

“No one really realizes the upheaval that this caused in our school district,” he said.

littleton, Littleton Public Schools, Brian Ewert, covid vaccine, heritage high school, byron clayton

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