SALEM — Police and school personnel quickly defused a social media threat made by two boys late Tuesday, after immediately getting texts and calls from other students and parents who saw the post.
“Thank you to the students who took this seriously. They did what they’re taught to do, hear something, see something, say something,” Salem Police Chief J.T. Panezott said.
The first notification came to Salem Police Detective Brad Davis at 9:30 p.m. — by 11:15 p.m. the two juveniles responsible were in custody.
Their names weren’t being released, but Panezott said the boys, ages 13 and 14, are brothers and students at Salem Junior/Senior High School. They were charged with delinquency and taken to the Louis Tobin Juvenile Attention Center.
Police learned about the social media post before calls started coming into dispatch. Davis contacted school resource officer Rich Miller, high school principal Todd McLaughlin and dean of students Hank Brock.
The post on SnapChat from a person using the name Adam Lanza said, “I’m gonna shoot up Salem High School,” and mentioned an AR-15. Lanza is the name of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter who killed 26 people in 2012 in Newtown, Conn.
Panezott said police recognized the name and realized the post was coming from a fake account and that it was obviously serious because of the name being used. He said Davis was able to contact SnapChat to figure out the email address linked to the account.
At the same time this was happening, kids let officials know the location where the post was coming from. The social media app SnapChat has the capability to show the poster’s location on a map. The icon for the person shows up when they’re active.
Police then started getting messages that a person with a real account was active at the same location as the fake account, so then officers had a name. Miller and night shift officers responded to the residence in question and spoke to a parent, who gave access to the two juveniles, who admitted to making the post.
“There was no indication that they actually intended to carry out the threat,” Panezott said.
He also said they did not have access to weapons and the motive is still under investigation.
Juvenile Prosecutor K. Bret Apple said he was still determining what charges to file against the two boys. During a detention hearing Wednesday afternoon at Columbiana County Juvenile Court, the decision was made that they would remain at the Tobin detention center.
Apple said it’s likely they’ll be charged with felonies, possibly with an inducing panic charge.
“We take this stuff seriously at Juvenile Court,” he said.
Superintendent Sean Kirkland said he can’t talk about the consequences or discipline the two students will face at the school. He said typically those types of bad decisions come with a recommendation for expulsion, but he couldn’t say what may or may not happen in this case.
“It’s very unfortunate that these kids had such a bad lapse in judgment,” he said.
On the flip side, though, he said he was very proud of the response of other students who recognized what they saw as a threat and started texting Kirkland and others about what was on social media. One student sent him the location that was showing on the social media site.
“All of the protocols set in place worked,” Kirkland said. “I’m proud of the kids who realized, even though it might have been a bad joke, they needed to get the information to myself and the Salem Police Department.”
He also commented that this again demonstrated the good relationship between the school district and the police. The police acted quickly in shutting down the situation and put out a statement on the department’s Facebook page when it was all over so students and parents would know everything was safe.
Kirkland said he felt that was sufficient rather than putting out an all-call that late at night since there was no longer a threat.
At the school Wednesday morning, it was business as usual, with some extra police officers on hand, which Panezott said they did to make sure everybody felt safe. Panezott also talked about the good relationship between his department and the school district.
“We have to take every one of these seriously, the school takes every one of these seriously,” he said.
Panezott said he “can’t say enough of how proud we are of the students for doing the right thing.”
He’s also proud of his officers involved. One fielded the phone calls related to the incident, a detective worked on getting the location and the SRO and other officers tracked down the residence.
Panezott said Miller is constantly reinforcing the fact that students have to be responsible for their posts and he’s done presentations to the students about social media. Once something’s out there on social media, it’s out there.
“What you post today is going to have an effect on the rest of your life, so be very cautious,” Panezott said.