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Teacher accused of threatening to behead student over Israeli flag comments ‘no longer an employee’ at school, district says

By Dianne Gallagher, CNN

(CNN) — A Georgia teacher who was arrested last month after witnesses told police he threatened to behead a student over comments she made about the Israeli flag hanging in his classroom is no longer employed at the middle school where the incident happened, officials said.

Benjamin Reese, a 51-year-old seventh grade teacher at Warner Robins Middle School, was arrested on charges of making terroristic threats and cruelty to children in the third degree, according to an incident report from the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, which lists more than 20 witnesses.

Reese, 51, was arrested on December 8, 2023, on charges of making terroristic threats and cruelty to children in the third degree. According to the Houston County Clerk of Court’s office, Reese does not yet have a listed attorney, or a court date set on the charges, according to the Houston County Clerk of Court’s office. CNN has tried multiple times to reach Reese for comment.

“We cannot discuss the details of personnel matters; however, we can confirm that Benjamin Reese is no longer an employee of the Houston County School District,” wrote Jennifer Jones, Director of School and Community Affairs, in an email to CNN on Wednesday. “The Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC) is authorized to suspend or revoke teaching certifications. When an employee violates the Code of Ethics for Educators, we submit a report to the PSC for their review.”

The student’s family told CNN this week they learned about the most “gruesome” threats police said Reese made against their child from the media, not the school district.

Alaa Afifi, the father of one of the Warner Robins Middle School students, is asking for more transparency and action from the district.

While Afifi acknowledged “swift action” from school employees and the sheriff resulted in the eventual arrest of Reese, he says “the school did not inform us about the rest of the incident or the graphic nature of the extended threats that Mr. Reese made. The story broke out in the media a full week after this terrifying incident and only then did we learn additional gruesome details.”

The father said the family does not believe Reese is “fit to be an educator” and is calling for his certification to be revoked “so he is not allowed to teach at any school in the future.”

The district responded to CNN’s questions in a statement, emphasizing student safety.

“Our school district views parents as partners in education, and we seek to maintain open lines of communication with our families. When situations occur, our goal is to communicate as much information as we have available at the time,” the district’s statement read. “While we continuously reflect and look for opportunities for growth, we remain committed to making all students feel safe and nurtured. Our number one priority will always be the safety and well-being of our students and staff.”

It frightens us that a man capable of such violent thoughts and posing a high risk to our lives is living freely among us without any monitoring while the school all but concealed the threats he made against our daughter,” Afifi said in a statement.

Witnesses described incident

The incident report – written by a sheriff’s deputy who was on duty at the school when the incident occurred – cites several witnesses who said they heard Reese shouting profane threats at three female students in the seventh-grade hallway on December 7, including, “You motherf****ing piece of s**t! I’ll kick your a**! I should cut your motherf****ing head off!”

Another teacher, who was tutoring students in the next classroom, reported hearing Reese call one of the three students “my antisemitic friend.” The teacher said the students began walking down the hall and Reese started yelling that they disrespected “his flag” and were ignorant, according to the incident report.

Reese began walking back to his classroom, the teacher added, when she says she heard him yelling, “She is a stupid motherf***er, and I will drag her by the back of my car and cut her f***ing head off for disrespecting my Jewish flag,” the report stated.

A separate adult witness reported to the deputy she heard Reese yell at the student, “You don’t make an antisemitic comment like that to a Jew,” and later shouting in the hallway that he would “slit her f***ing throat” when talking about the students. That teacher said Reese was yelling loudly and cursing down the hallway back into his classroom.

School surveillance video showed Reese following the three students in the hallway, according to the incident report. The video did not include audio.

When confronted by the school’s principal and the sheriff’s deputy, Reese initially “got defensive,” questioned why the deputy was present and denied speaking to anyone, the report stated. Eventually, however, Reese told the principal a student came into his classroom to tell him she found the Israeli flag offensive, the report says. Reese claimed he told the student she was being antisemitic but denied saying “anything racist.”

Reese became angry and “kicked the door stopper in an aggressive manner” when asked to discuss the incident further, the report says. He then asked in what capacity the deputy was present – whether as a school resource officer or a member of the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, to which the deputy responded, “Both.” Reese then told the deputy he had “nothing further” to say and “invoked his civil rights,” according to the report.

The deputy interviewed all three of the students about what led up to allegedly being threatened by Reese, the report says. One told the deputy she decided to speak with Reese about the flag because she found it offensive, according to the report.

The student said she entered Reese’s classroom, pointed to the flag and asked him why he had it hanging there. According to the student, Reese responded he was Jewish and had family members who still live there, the report stated.

The student told him she found the flag offensive due to “Israelis killing (Palestinians),” and then claimed Reese became angry, she told the deputy. She said he began to yell and asked if she denied the right of Israel to exist and called her antisemitic, according to the report.

The student claimed she left the classroom due to the situation becoming heated and uncomfortable, but Reese tried to prevent her from leaving and demanded her name and homeroom teacher, which she gave him. She said he continued to yell at her and her friends as they walked away down the hallway, the report says.

The incident comes at a moment of heightened tension, as the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza continues. In the weeks following Hamas’ October 7 attack — and amid Israel’s continued siege of the enclave – there have been reported spikes in bias incidents of antisemitic and anti-Muslim or anti-Arab sentiment.

There were more than 2,000 antisemitic incidents reported in the two months after October 7, a 337% increase over the same period last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. And the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, reported more than 2,000 requests for help and reports of bias following October 7.

“We welcome the swift action against Benjamin Reese including the charges and arrest in connection with the horrific threats he allegedly made to a child,” Azka Mahmood, executive director of CAIR-Georgia, said in a statement.

“We hope that the Board of Education will take the appropriate steps to ensure that, if this teacher indeed made the remarks he is accused of making, is not allowed back in classrooms where he can cause immeasurable harm to Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students,” Mahmood said.

The organization is working with the family to “ensure the safety of the student and the Warner Robins community at large,” Mahmood said.

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