High school student arrested in connection with string of bomb threats at Vel Phillips Memorial High

MADISON, Wis. — Madison police have arrested a teenager in connection with a series of bomb threats directed at Vel Phillips Memorial High School earlier this year.

Threats directed at Memorial High started in February and continued until April; police said the 17-year-old suspect — Joseph Garrison, who is a student at Memorial High — also made threats toward other schools outside of Dane County during that time.

None of the threats were ever deemed credible, but they did disrupt classes, ultimately prompting Madison police to station extra officers outside of the school after threats were reported two days in a row.

Police said the suspect was cooperative during his arrest and was taken into custody without incident.

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Garrison faces nine felony charges stemming from the incidents, online court records show. During an initial court appearance Thursday afternoon, a court commissioner set a signature bond of $500 per case and ordered Garrison not to be at any Madison Metropolitan School District building.

A preliminary hearing has been set for Aug. 25.

In a statement sent to district parents, Memorial High principal Matt Hendrickson thanked the department for their work on the case and investigation.

“These threats caused a tremendous amount of anxiety for our scholars, families and staff, and we are relieved to hear the investigation continues to progress,” the statement reads. “However, we are saddened to hear the person in custody is connected to our school.”

Detectives working on the case are requesting felony charges of bomb scares and terrorist threats as a party to a crime. Police said their investigation is still active; authorities from other law enforcement agencies beyond MPD are also involved.

Read the district’s full statement below.

Dear Vel Phillips Memorial Families,

The safety and security of our scholars, families and staff continues to be a top priority. It is also important to keep our families informed of any safety concerns involving our school.

The City of Madison Police Department (MPD) has informed MMSD officials that an individual was arrested Wednesday morning in connection to a series of threats made toward Vel Phillips Memorial High School, during the 2021-2022 school year.

These threats caused a tremendous amount of anxiety for our scholars, families and staff, and we are relieved to hear the investigation continues to progress. However, we are saddened to hear the person in custody is connected to our school.

We appreciate MPD for their work on this case, especially because of the impact it had on our Memorial community.

Thank you for your continued support.

Matt Hendrickson, Principal of Vel Phillips Memorial High School

Sedric Morris, Co-Director of MMSD Office of School Safety

Gina Aguglia, Co-Director MMSD Office of School Safety

Last year, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education voted to change the name of James Madison Memorial High School to Vel Phillips Memorial High School. The name change is official at the start of the 2022-23 school year.