It may be the unintended consequence of “See Something, Say Something.”
Several Indian Trails Middle School students received a Snapchat message on Wednesday warning them not to go to school today (May 23), and that a boy previously associated with making threats there would “shoot up” the school. Some said something, as advised. Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies investigated and found the threat to be groundless.
“It appears to be a misunderstanding between what was said and what people thought they heard,” a sheriff’s spokesperson said: all the reports of a threat were based on second-hand information, untraceable to any single individual.
But in the age of social media, the message on Snapchat spread very quickly among students Wednesday evening, amplifying fears and causing some parents to keep their children from going to school the next day. The viral reaction is not necessarily groundless: students and parents are continually told by school and law enforcement authorities: “If you see something, say something.” Some students thought they saw or heard something and repeated it as what they thought was a warning or caution. The sheriff’s office investigates all such claims no matter how minor, and in almost every case, the claims have been found to be groundless, exaggerated, or impulsive statements not intending harm, or tasteless jokes. By the time detectives reach their conclusions–however swift the investigation–rumors have generally already spread too far to control the reaction.
The sheriff’s investigation began at nearly 10 p.m. Wednesday after a parent reported that her child had received a Snapchat message that read: “Everybody that goes to Indian Trails, don’t go to school on 5/23/2019… if you have any questions on why text me.” According to the sheriff’s incident report, the student who received the Snapchat message did reply with a question: “why?” The reply came: “this boy named [redacted] said he was going to shoot up the school tomorrow.”
Deputies quickly ascertained who the student who allegedly “has a history of threats made to the school” was, according to the report. The student had been arrested on Dec. 13 “for making a bomb threat at a school dance.” That incident was previously reported. The student was allegedly talking about carrying out an attack with another student, in front of a girl on the school bus, and saying it would take place “at the formal,” where “there were going to be a lot more people in one spot.” The two students on the bus were arrested and disciplined.
The incident report regarding Wednesday’s Snapchat statements redacts all the students’ identifying information, but describes a series of deputies’ visits to various homes, including that of the boy with that history of threats, though no one answered the door there. “The house was completely blacked out and there were no vehicles in the driveway,” the report states.
Other students who had heard or reported the alleged threat were located. Siblings told deputies that they were at the Indian Trails Sports Complex earlier and overheard a boy and a girl talking about a particular individual (name redacted) coming to school to shoot it up on Thursday–and that the boy in question had been involved in an altercation at school Wednesday, and “was running from the police and got away after a brief altercation.”
The incident report documents several other deputies’ visits to students’ homes, whose reports mirrored those read on Snapchat.
“An email update was sent out by Cpl DeSousa to the schools and command staff to inform them of the alleged threat,” the report concludes. “Contact was also made with the on coming shift supervisors to request an increased law enforcement presence at the school and to attempt to make contact with [name redacted] for questioning in this incident.”
The boy in question was eventually located and interviewed at his home. “He’s been in trouble before, so people thought they overheard him making a threat,” a sheriff’s spokesperson said, “then those students took it upon themselves to post on social media not to come to school the next day.” But the investigation “determined the boy did not make threats to do anything at the school. So it was a misunderstanding.” The boy is not at school today. The spokesperson did not have information as to why.