Middle school teacher arrested after allegedly threatening to behead Muslim student who said Israeli flag offended her
(CNN) — A Georgia middle school teacher was arrested last week after multiple witnesses told authorities he threatened to behead a 13-year-old Muslim student who said the Israeli flag hanging in his classroom offended her.
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 was arrested on December 8 and records show he has since bonded out of jail. CNN has been unable to determine if he has an attorney who would comment on his behalf.
In a statement, the Houston County School District said all employees are required to adhere to an educator’s code of ethics, and a violation or accusation of one would prompt an investigation.
“While we are not able to discuss specific personnel matters, we can share that Mr. Reese has not been on the campus of Warner Robins Middle School since December 7, 2023,” the statement said. “Safety and the well-being of our students and staff is our number one priority.”
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.